Wow…holy crap…it’s been nearly a year since I had my last post about my trip to Ukraine. I’ve got at least six more days of a trip to write about. Not only that, I’m heading back there in about two weeks. My plan is to finish up my last trip recap before I head back so you can see how last trip affected me and what I’m about to encounter. Things will be VERY different because since my last trip they had Euromaidan, ousted their old corrupt president, elected a new one, had Russia annex Crimea from them and now there is a civil war in the east. Yeah…much has changed.
Another thing that has changed is the venue for my posts. My previous posts are up at WaxPorhetoric.com but since I do most of my Ukraine posts on Twitter through this account, it kinda makes sense to keep similar social media posts clustered around one area.
So…here I am, my plan is now to get back into the mindset of what I witnessed on my last trip so you can get a sense of change as I write about my last trip and this upcoming trip.
So here we are…my first full day in Novograd-Volynski. We had finished up our meet and greet and whatever else at Grandma’s house (that’s what I’ll call it for now). As much as we all would have liked to sit around and exchange stories (through Larisa), we actually had a bunch of chores to do. School starts September 1 in Ukraine, no matter what davit is. This year it landed on a Saturday so we still had a few days of shopping to do before sending Vitalik off to school. Now…here’s something to keep in mind (especially if you are an American reading this). School shopping isn’t a quick stop to the mall to get some clothes and then to get some notebooks. Oh hell no…it’s much much different. First, picture a tiny tiny remote town that has no mall. Now picture a bunch of stores that have, well, they have some stuff. In Ukraine, students dress up. Dresses for the girls and suits for the boys. We went to at least half a dozen different stores looking for clothes for Vitalik. First, let’s see if a store has a suit. Next, if we’re lucky and it does have one, let’s see if it fits. Ok, if we happen to be that lucky, let’s see if it actually looks decent. Repeat this exercise for all other clothing (shirts, shoes, etc) and you see why this is more than a couple hours worth of shopping. Actually, it took most of the week.
Again, one thing to keep in mind is that there is no mall. A few small markets, a few random shops here and there. It was both an enjoyable experience to witness, and also a bit tiring at times as I’m just used to getting stuff and getting out. I do believe I watched Larisa haggle over prices too…something I came to become accustomed to rather than all the set prices we are used to here in the US.
While doing all this walking around town to shop, I was of course witnessing the behavior of people as I’m finally able to get over my travel weariness and see what people are really like in my new town. People walk around with a purpose. Walking fast, no smiling, going from point A to point B. There’s no personal space, you just go from here to there and take care of business. At first I was a bit taken aback by this but then I realized it was more of a cultural thing rather than a behavioral thing. In the US, people would say “how rude!”. There, well, that’s what you do. Hell, I’m sure I looked like a weirdo, a pansy, a tourist…who the hell knows…as I smiled here and there, or stepped back as someone stepped in to buy something.
As labor intensive as this whole shopping experience was, it was eye opening, it was educational, and it was fun stopping at various food carts along the way to pick up a pastry or other food item to carry us on through to the next part of our shopping experience.
While walking around doing all this, Larisa was teaching me the ways of Ukraine. After all, this was our first real opportunity to talk as everything else was rush-rush of “get to town” and then “welcome to town”. The dust had finally settled and we could ramble on about different things. One thing that stuck in my mind was how she had mentioned to me that people used to be so much friendlier in the past. Now, this struck me as quite surprising as I had already found Ukrainians quite friendly. Very friendly indeed. For her to say that, it took me aback quite a bit. She said people were much friendlier, but now there was a bit of resentment for people that have money and such. I guess that’s what happens when you have a corrupt government that creates billionaires out of a few select oligarchs and leaves the other 95% of the population in the dirt. Now most of the people are either resentful or alcoholics (or both).
And here’s an interesting point about alcoholics and drinking. Evidently in Ukraine (or at least Novograd-Volynski), you either drink to get shit-hammered or you don’t drink. I was trying to explain to Larisa that in the US we drink socially…not always to get drunk, but that’s what we do as we get together. Go out for a drink with a friend or co-worker after work and catch up. Have some drinks with friends or family at dinner. Not there in town…oh no…not at all. Let’s see if I remember to tell some stories of the drunks I saw in my time there.
After a bit of shopping around town, we went to an old fort or park to do a little exploring. It’s on the River Sluch (I was so excited when I read the sign in Russian and knew what I was reading). There’s a river there with a rather sharp bend. They put this fort and bell there to warn the ships to be wary of the bend and to be careful. I looked at the date on the bell and thought “holy crap! That bell has been around longer than my country has been in existence”. The date on the bell was 1257. Yes…1257. I told Larisa that our country came into being in the 1700s and that it was “discovered” (I had to explain the whole Columbus discovery and that we had Native Americans there before that) just before that. To me, seeing a bell from 1257 really help humble me a bit as I thought about my country and the country I was visiting.
Ah yes…one thing I forgot to mention…I had given Vitalik an American football when I came over. He was quite happy to have this and had insisted we carry it around all day while shopping. Throughout shopping experiences, we would walk down the streets and he and I would play catch. Now, for a young kid who had never (as far as I know) thrown an American football, he was pretty damn good! And trust me, he was always looking for an opportunity to throw that thing to me. It was a fun break in the day of shopping. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone, but it was the first time I had thrown a ball in a while myself. It was fun!
So…by now, we’ve had a pretty full afternoon of walking all around town looking for clothes and other school supplies. It was finally time to start wrapping it all up. We went to a bus stop area to take a bus from the heart of town back to Larisa’s area. Time to whip out the wallet and get ready to pay a fare of…of…$0.10. Yes, ten cents. In Atlanta, the bus is $2.50 to take the buss somewhere. Well sheeeeit, I’ll pay for all three of us! Now this bus looks like it was built in, well hell if I know. 1955? It was old. Crowded. Larisa told me to keep an eye on my wallet. At this point I started carrying my wallet in my front pocket as it’s easier to monitor there. However, our ten cent ride did its job and got us to Larisa’s place as expected. Hurray!
We dropped off what school supplies we had at Grandma’s house and grabbed the football (to most of the world…the soccer ball to Americans). We grabbed that, the rest of Larisa’s stuff and made our way back to her place. Once there we put the ball down and Vitalik and I played football (soccer) for a bit. Good googly…whereas I’m used to entertaining kids while playing ball, I actually had to pay attention or Vitalik would have run right past me to score a goal. He’s got some good ball juggling skills. Hell, I’ll come right out and say it…he’s got better ball control than I do. I just happen to have more years of experience and am able to anticipate and do what I have to…but as far as juggling and ball control, he makes me look pretty bad. He can juggle 100 times. Me? Um, not so much. Needless to say, I got fairly dirty as I slipped and slid in the grass while trying to maintain some semblance of dignity while playing ball with him. It was fun! I would like to think he enjoyed it too and hope Larisa was enjoying the fact I was having a good time kicking the ball around with him too. All in all, it was a good end to the day of shopping with some good football kicking, laughing, and all around fun as the sun set during my first full day in town.
Now…it’s time to head back to my hotel. My first full day, I think I’m still flying high on adrenaline and endorphins as I explore my new town and country, yet I’m also exhausted. Larisa called a cab for me and said “when he comes, don’t speak. I’ll tell him where to take you and we will have the price set so he doesn’t rip you off for being an American”. He came and I prepped my wallet for a whopping $2.00 for a taxi ride from her apartment to my hotel. Again, it was odd not speaking (my nickname IS “the social beast” after all) but I did as instructed. I got back to the hotel, flopped down on my tiny bed and started recalling my day as best I could.
Some random thoughts as I took in my day
- I sooooo wish I had my camera with me! Wow, there were so many cool things to see. I would at some point later in the week grab my camera, but as of my first full day in town, I wanted to take so many pictures.
- I’m already loving the simpler life and the real people in town. I’ve always been a fan of real people, but this took it to a new level. And with all the crazy stuff going on at work, this was a great surprise to enjoy as I actually had a chance to slow down and experience life.
- I was amazed by the lack of rules. I mean, in the US, there’s a rule for every damn thing. “Don’t walk here”, “don’t drink that there”, “don’t say this”, “don’t put a ladder there”. Basically…you’re expected not to be a dumbass in Ukraine. If you are, well, prepare for the consequences, either from injury or from someone giving you stink-eye. It was quite refreshing actually.
- Americans would probably be turned off by the lack of, well, everything. “Where can I get my Starbucks?” or “why do I have to go to this specific store to get this?” or…or hell, everything. We get our food, TV, work, clothes, everything without worrying too much about it. In Ukraine, good luck getting all those on a moment’s notice. It made me feel like an entitled dork…and I already have a sense of annoyance toward people that feel entitled to everyone. It was certainly an eye opener for me.
- Back to shopping…it’s simply not easy to find what you need or want while shopping. Don’t plan on a quick trip to get all your needs, especially if they are wide and varied. Plan on a half day or full day…if you’re lucky.
- After this full day of eye opening goodness I realized I needed a notebook. At this point I was doing my best to remember everything. Perhaps I’ll buy a notebook tomorrow…
- While laying in bed I realized I could hear everything in the hotel. People walking down the hall and especially people in other rooms talking. The latter was of a few guys getting into seemingly heated discussions in Russian or Ukrainian. At the time I just noticed it happened. After my trip I came to look fondly upon it as it added to my experience.