William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

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roomates, customs forms, and why you need a flashlight

Written, then later typed, yesterday (October 9)

Blogging is a little like laundry. The longer you put it off, the less likely it is you’ll be willing to do the job. Speaking of which, most of yesterday’s laundry is still hanging outside. The shorter days of autumn (it gets dark around 6:30 now) mean I can’t count on one day being enough to dry my clothes, so it’s a good thing I washed them yesterday, since I’m going to Lviv tomorrow. Of course, today being Sunday (a beautiful Sunday at that), I would have been strongly discouraged from doing it today anyway.

Also, the limitations of my metabolism required me to sleep until noon for reasons I don’t need to speak of, except to tell you that last night was Sheryle’s going-away party, held at three different venues. Sheryle and Roch are leaving the program and going back to Canada. Sheryle left for Poland this morning, and Roch is moving on early this week, also to Poland. Unlike my previous program, these departures are protracted, quiet, and non-traumatic. It was even suggested that they come to mid-project in Lviv, but this was eventually decided against for team dynamics reasons.

I’ve taken to calling our group, now numbering five, Micro Corps.

Olya came back home from Poland yesterday (she was supervising a two-week student exchange), and when she arrived, she poked her head into the bathroom to say hello where I had my shirt off washing my clothes. I was a bit startled and mortified, so it was a mutually hilarious moment. I’m just now realizing how much I missed her. It was much more difficult to function without her and she’s normally the only person in the house who will initiate a normal conversation with me, probably due to her increasing confidence in English (she’s fluent in Ukrainian, Russian, and Polish, and she is now learning German). Yesterday we had a conversation about Volodim…

Volodim’s a good kid, and as I’ve said before is my host cousin who lives in a distant village but studies at Ostroh. He was originally supposed to stay in my room for a few weeks (one or two) while they looked for a place at the dorm for him. Well, it’s been over a month now, which isn’t a problem for me per se, except that our relationship is becoming increasingly acrimonious.

For a while, things were okay. But soon, Volodim wanted to go to bed early. Every night. At 8:30. This wouldn’t be a problem either except that I usually have a lot of reading or work to do in the evenings (if I’m even at home). So I have to take everything out of my room. And then, putting my things away neatly afterwards is out of the question because I’m not allowed to turn the light on again* and have to navigate with my small LED flashlight (this fits in my pocket and has been an absolute godsend. Not only is it good for getting into bed at really late hours like 10:30, but it also enables you to walk through the sidewalks, back streets, and agricultural neighbourhoods of Ostroh at night without getting manure all over your shoes.).

* - One night early on, I came into my room around quarter after nine. I had lots of clothes to put away, so I turned the light on – less than half a minute passed before my host mother came shouting and yelling at me in Ukrainian to turn off the light so Volodim could sleep. (Ostensibly, Ukrainian boys can sleep through yelling but not the activation of a 40-watt light bulb.)

“I’m sorry,” I responded meekly.
“No sorry!” Click.

On the bright side, that’s been the only time so far that she’s really yelled at me. Most of the household yelling is between my host parents, and it usually seems to be about farm business minutae. (end footnote)

Things came to a head Thursday night and Friday morning. That night, I made the mistake of assuming and not explicitly asking that a key would be left under the rail for me to get into the house. I came back from an Orphanage fundraising concert at Karo at 2, and for want of a $2 phone call (it’s long distance to call between cell phones and land lines in Ukraine – on the upside, all calls between cell phones are “local” – that is, your number is dependent on your provider, not what part of the country you live in) I had no way to get in the house. Suddenly I remembered that my ground-level window was unlatched at that Volodim was sleeping beneath it. You can guess the rest. Let’s just say that he was less than pleased, and I think he said the Ukrainian equivalents of “two o’clock,” “very bad,” and “sleep.” Fair enough; it was my fault for not making arrangements earlier in the evening to get inside later.

Being rather tired, I set my alarm for 8 instead of 7, intending to go to the Academy a little scruffier than usual. My host mother came into the room at 7:30 and had a brief argument with Volodim while he was still in bed. I closed my eyes and went to sleep again but only a few seconds passed before he turned on his portable radio. (“WHAT?!” I mentally exclaimed. “I can’t wake him up with a light, but he can wake me with a radio?”) I soon gave up on sleeping and went about getting my breakfast. When I came back to clean up and leave, he was still in bed – I assume he didn’t have a class until ten – and he leaned over, looked at my jeans and underwear on the floor and said, “My God, Will, you are not alone here.” I calmly explained to him as I was folding my clothes and making my bed that I haven’t been able to clean up after myself the last few nights and mornings because I couldn’t have a light at night and he slept in the morning.

Naturally, on Friday night, all this came up again in a discussion with my host mother, who was quite disappointed with me (and revealed tonight that she still was). She wasn’t happy about either incident, and I apologized for waking Volodim and I promised to do better with my room. That night, I had the luxury of staying home for the evening, and so I took my pyjamas out of the room before 8, and when I went to bed I changed in the anteroom and even folded my shirts and jeans on the carpet there, which enabled me to set them on the floor neatly while I groped my way back into my room at 10:30 after reading some gruesome Guy de Maupassant.

Volodim’s been exceptionally grumpy for the last few days (and I am ashamed to say it, but I almost danced a jig when he went home yesterday morning and again last night when I had the room to myself – I’m convinced he’ll want to do the same about me tomorrow after I leave) and I have to put some of the blame on myself. Besides, even if he is unpleasant and doesn’t make an effort to control his emotions, how much can I expect from a seventeen-year-old? At his age, I was much, much worse. So I really don’t “blame” anyone for what’s been happening. I also am happy for him that he’s here and not at the dorm – goodness, they’d eat him alive over there. Most people have their lights on and music playing until long after midnight, and there are normally four people to a room. There’s a possibility he might get picked on, but fortunately his grumpiness seems mainstream (and I flatter myself that mine wasn’t), and so it probably wouldn’t be a problem. His mother wanted him to live in residence (I assume either for the experience of it or the far more convenient proximity), but I don’t think Volodim wants to leave.

No, he’d much rather I leave. Even my host mother is suggesting it (“Maybe you want go somewhere other?”), but I’m lucky that Olya understands me. She can see both points of view better than anyone else, myself emphatically included. She told me she’ll think about the problem while I’m away and decide what the best solution may be. She even went so far as to say that she thinks his sleeping hours are a little crazy.

Tonight I was fortunate enough to finish packing before Volodim jumped into his bed (at almost quarter-to-nine, later than usual) and dourly examined the opposite wall while waiting for me to leave. Don’t worry, kiddo, I wouldn’t dream of staying in your proximity a second longer than absolutely necessary. Man, I feel sorry for him. I’m sure he’ll grow out of it, and besides, I can’t underestimate how much I might annoy people, for that is very dangerous. But selfishly speaking, I don’t want to deal with him until he stops being so grumpy, but I guess one could say that about anyone.

You know, I’m really happy for this experience. I’m often tempted to thing I’m being treated unfairly, but so what? If I don’t learn how to deal with difficult people and situations, how will I know when I’m the one being difficult? One thing I know now: Czarek had the patience of a saint. Anyway, you can imagine how nice it will be to go away for a while and not have to worry about waking up grumpy people or listen to people yelling at each other for minutes on end. Spare me the vexations and let me return to my jaded luxuries of peace, says this decadent Canadian.

Moving on…

So we’re going to Lviv for mid-project, which I’m really excited about. Everyone is unanimous that it’s an excellent city to visit, and we’ll have plenty of free time. After Lviv, we plan to go to the Carpathian Mountains (this is essentially an agreed-upon vacation taken at our own expense), which offer excellent scenery, to put things mildly. Much of the area of the Carpathians is virgin wilderness and woodland – even the Soviets didn’t wreck it – and many older cultural traditions prevail in the area due to its historic isolation. The styles and music of this region provide the inspiration for Ruslana’s Wild Dances album and concerts – my European friends will probably know she won EuroVision last year, and consequently this year’s event was held in Kyiv. Speaking of music, apparently the Carpathians are home to the world’s longest musical instrument, the trembita, which makes a didgeridoo look like a pocket harmonica in terms of portability. If I was omnipotent, I’d probably try checking one as baggage at Borospyl International Airport (Kyiv) just to see what would happen. I’d probably also try to import a package through Ukrainian Customs if I hadn’t already had the experience.

Roma and I went to Rivne last week to pick up his new mp3 player (the old one took an unfortunate trip through the laundry), which we conjectured had arrived there due to a call Eduard and Svetlana got from a courier office there the week before. (This resulted in copious amounts of stress, because before we took a chance and assumed it was the player (they wouldn’t say which country the package was from, this would have decided the matter).) The scenery on the way was outstanding – the gentle hills and farms made me feel like I was on PEI again. We arrived in Rivne (50km from Ostroh) after a $1.50 marshutke ride and walked through a beautiful city park to find the central post office. Oh, it was beautiful. Everything was new and polished, and the attendants were young and pleasant (and also extremely nice to look at, pardon my objectification). One of them went quite out of her way to help us – she even called the courier office on our behalf once it was established that we came to the wrong place (however, it was also known then that it was the mp3 player for sure, as the package came from the United States). Afterwards, we went across town and found the courier. They literally dangled the package in front of us and quite frankly I was tempted to just grab it from the fellow and run, which is also on the list of things I’d try if I was omnipotent and/or held a diplomatic passport (I’m working on it). But they told us that a customs inspection was required – make an appointment with them, and we’ll being the package there when you are.

So, we walked all the way back to the bus stop in front of the original post office and got on another marshutke which took us to the customs office, which was conveniently located in the middle of nowhere (though fortunately next to a supermarket which was later happily pilfered by this blogger who probably hadn’t had so much joy shopping in his entire life). We found the office and luckily found the customs officers in a good mood, pleasant, and willing to help us right then. So we only had to wait about twenty minutes more for the package to come from the courier office, and then we got started.

I showed them my passport and visa and things were going okay until the lady in charge made the observation that since the package said “Department of Foreign Relations” under “William Matheson,” it was possible that the package didn’t belong to me, and so she’d need permission from the Department to release it to me. This caught us flat-footed, but fortunately Svetlana back at the office scrambled together a fax with Eduard’s signature which attested that the package was indeed for me. (I’m pretty sure she was just doing this to feel important, because wouldn’t my name at the top be enough evidence that it was for me? Sure, I could have asked the (very prompt and professional) eBay seller to just address it to me, but then I wouldn’t have the protection of the Department’s mailbox which is necessary for my peace of mind in case the mail sorter of a particular day doesn’t happen to know where to find some Вільям Метісон in a university with dozens of departments and thousands of students.)

I also had to fill out a declaration form – thankfully, it was in the English language. There was also a Ukrainian language form, which Roma filled out and I signed – I hope I didn’t agree to give the Government of Ukraine all my worldly possessions. One of the officers spoke English and even had a sense of humour (“this is where you say if you’re bringing in any drugs, guns, biological weapons…”).

In the end, we got the package. Roma later told me that they were tempted to ask to search the flash memory of the player for pornography, hate literature, or obscene material, but they decided to let it go. Roma also said that we probably got better treatment because I was a Canadian, which not only seemed unfair but also kind of worrisome. In Canada, the extent of customs bureaucracy is usually limited to paying a bit of GST at the post office before getting your package – at least that’s all that happened with Roma’s previous mp3 player, which came from the Hong Kong SAR of the PROC (People’s Republic of China – the Beijing China).

Advice? When overseas, don’t order things from professional merchants who are going to properly identify their packages. Tell your relatives who may be so nice as to send you things that if the post office wants to put a customs sticker on your package, to just buy the packaging materials and find another post office. Shelley got her tri-band* GSM cell phone sent from Alberta last week, and there was no song or dance whatever.

* - Ah, yes, the “why didn’t my cheap Nokia phone work in Poland?” mystery has finally been explained. Cheap GSM phones operate on two frequencies – either the two that are used in North America (850, 1900), or the two that are used overseas (900, 1850), depending on where you bought the phone. Nicer GSM phones operate on three frequencies (your two local frequencies, plus the higher frequency of other places), which can give you pretty good use in the other region, and expensive phones can operate on all four. So keep this in mind when you buy a GSM phone! For CDMA (Telus, Bell, Aliant, etc..) all this is irrelevant because CDMA is only deployed in North America, Japan, and the ROK (Republic of Korea (South Korea); actually, in the DPRK (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)) after allowing celluar phones for a while, they’ve banned them again, so I imagine it’s hard to pin down a standard for the DPRK!). In Japan and ROK, CDMA is used exclusively of GSM, which means if I go to one of those countries to teach English, I must purchase yet another cell phone.

I returned to Ostroh weary but satisfied, and I joined a meeting in progress with Vlad from CWY’s Edmonton office. I have to say that my relationship with Vlad is great. He’s very pleasant and interesting to speak with, and also has good advice and a keen sense of humour. It’s too bad that our first encounter was under such volatile circumstances (I still remember spending 45 minutes on my phone crying to my mom that lonely day in Grande Prairie, Alberta while my co-participants were getting warnings for speaking out – thank goodness for 4.5¢/min long distance) but things have come full-circle now. Vlad even brought us some goodies from Canada including peanut butter, Maclean’s magazines, and Halloween candy from Réka, our coordinator back in Canada. We devoured the first two items and some of us saved the latter. It was in this series of meetings that Sheryle and Roch announced their official decision to leave the program, which, as I’ve said, went over rather peacefully.

Roch called me just now and asked if he could tag along to mid-project with us. Wow, that’s okay by me! I was afraid I mightn’t see him again. He just wants to come and have fun with us for a little while, which would be nice, I think.

Odds and ends:

- It’s very bad luck to whistle indoors in Ukraine (fortunately I have learned this second-hand; participants have been severely scolded). It’s also bad luck to sit at the corner of a table if you’re single.

- Tonight is the last time I’ll see the Youth Program participants all together. (More accurately, tonight is the last time I could have seen the YP participants, because I’m too tired to go out.) I’ll miss them a lot – they were a lot of fun, Canadians and Ukrainians alike. On the other hand, the NetCorps participants aren’t here yet, and interactions with them throughout December will surely lead to all kinds of exciting adventures.

- Last weekend, I went to Mazurych again and took pictures, but the lake that I had admired before was gone! They opened up the dam and let the water move on. Fortunately, the monastery was as photogenic as ever, and this time, finding the courtyard essentially deserted, I ventured inside the walls and snuck some pictures.

- On the topic of Mazurych, be careful taking pictures in Ukraine. Not only does everyone staaaaare when I haul out my camera, but I was almost run over from behind by a bicycle while I was standing motionless on the sidewalk. “Pereproshuyu,” I apologized, but he just glared at me as if I had set an upright piano on the hood of his car. Clearly, he expected me to get out of his way, which is counterintuitive for a North American used to the reverse in bicycle-on-the-sidewalk/pedestrian interactivity.

- Being different is also not conducive to survival here. I know that I get looks and laughs some mornings because my coat is too big, or I walk too fast, or if I’m wearing mitts when everybody else isn’t, or whatever. This rural area hasn’t really developed any appreciation for being different, and I can’t see They Might Be Giants doing a show here anytime soon. (Actually, they might be well received for their pop-sounding material, whereas rock music is regarded as an untouchable subculture, and people with long hair and people with short hair might not always get along.)

- Everyone should have the Harry Potter / fire-breathing dragon / hot air balloon / bright, skyscraper-filled city lucid dream, because it’s a darn good one.

- By the way, when you’re leaving Ukraine, there are a few things you shouldn’t take with you. These include Will’s plug adapter, which at $1 isn’t a big deal except that he can’t buy them here easily and only has one left now, as well as your host family’s house key. <cough>

Well, I guess it’s time to check out my laundry, as the sun is setting. (Done, and almost everything was dry!) See you on the flip side!
Tags: best of ukraine, cwy, electronics, ostroh, problems, travel, ukraine

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