Friday, September 4, 2009

Well, I fail at updating.

Note to world: I AM NO LONGER IN UKRAINE. In fact, I haven't been there since my service ended last December, eight (long) months ago.

Instead I:
  1. Moved Sherlock and myself to Seattle, where we got to experience America's worst dressed people sliding around in 6 inches of snow.
  2. Worked in a shelter for homeless teens, where my Ukrainian-English ("I'm coming to you!") was joined by teenspeech ("That's filthy!") and inappropriate pointing. At least I learned to say please and thank you again.
  3. Somehow decided that getting an MBA was the best of my six graduate school options.
Which brings us to today.
To the Annie of the past: WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?!
Business school is no place for your math-fearing, poverty-loving, non-profit supporting liberal liberal heart! How did you think a program whose first semester has you taking finance, statistics, and accounting was a good idea? Do you not remember that the only C you ever got was in Macroeconomics?

Alas. Annie of the past, you fail at decisions.
You do, win, however, at city-picking. I <3 DC.

I am coming to you, Obama, yo!

(p.s. Peace Corps Ukraine, will you PLEASE take me off your mailing list now? You do NOT need a living allowance survey from me! I'm not joining any working groups! I have better things to do with my time nowadays, notably showering, eating vegetables, and making progress on my 20 pounds of celebration fat plan.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

I Do Not Live in a Mud Hut

I really did join the Peace Corps while visions of thatched mud huts and goats eating tin-cans danced in my head. I was rearin’ to head off to ankle-length skirts and no make-up. I was hoping for interesting photo-ops (“Here’s me milking a yak!” “Another picture of my mosquito-net protected hammock bed!”) and gross-out stories (“Well, the monkey brains really were tastier than the grub!”) I wanted to come back to the States after two years with my tales of discomfort and stoicism-in-the-face-of-privation ready like a bright shiny badge pinned to my chest.

Instead, I came to Ukraine. There aren’t naked round bellied children playing in garbage dumps. All of my students get enough to eat. I have electricity and plumbing and INTERNET. I can buy shampoo and q-tips. In some stores I can even get brands I recognize.

I feel like a fraud sometimes, when people from home congratulate me, thank me for what I’m doing. I want to shout back “Don’t you realize! This isn’t that hard! I’m not in Africa!” It’s as if my experience isn’t as worthwhile because I don’t have to deal with as many hassles just to survive.

At the end of training all the trainees took a mental health questionnaire. We were meant to check off which factors had contributed to stress/unhappiness in our lives so far. Along with the expected “Missing family and Friends” and “Cultural Differences” was the seemingly ridiculous “I’m not suffering enough.”

I laughed then. Now, 13 months in, I’m glad I saw that check-box, and know I’m not alone in these feelings of “is this really it? Where’s the meat?”

My embarrassingly orientalist ideas have died pitiful little deaths. There will be no headdress wearing in my near future. I’m not going to get to morph into some sort of Zen hippie with two years of impressively fantastic stories about polygamy or grass skirts. And really, I’ve come to respect that that’s not what makes up this Peace Corps experience.

Another volunteer, who had worked in Bangladesh until being forced to evacuate, kind of bashed me over the head with reality. In her previous service, EVERY DAY was a struggle to just keep herself going. All of the aspects that seem adventurous and exotic really served only as a barrier to what we’re really here to do: work. When you’re so concentrated on yourself, she said, on getting yourself up and about and through the day, you have much less time/energy/optimism/LIFE to spare for the job you’re doing.

The focus in Ukraine is different, centered much more on projects and goals rather than survival. I’m sure Peace Corps does good work in LDCs. I’m also kind of glad shallow me didn’t end up somewhere I could so easily leave the real Point Of It All unexamined. Props to Peace Corps, for country placement.

Of course, if you want to fund my
African Safari Vacation I am SO, SO GAME. Especially if I get to wear one of those great elephant-hunter hats.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Hardship? Not so much...

Last week, Geoffrey, my site mate, and I recently discovered A BRAND NEW EUROPEAN-STYLE SUPERMARKET IN TOWN.
To those of you who haven't been to a place like Ukraine this may sound like a mildly pleasing but ultimately unexciting event.

The rest of you know that this is more exciting than gossip involving a major political figure and teenage prostitutes.

It's not that Ukraine doesn't have STUFF, it's just that the variety, quality, and most importantly ACCESSIBILITY of stuff here is, to put it mildly, a bit modest. There may be four shops located within twenty seconds of each other, but that by no means guarantees you a beautiful comparison shopping experience. In fact, you are likely to walk into all four stores and find the exact same products being offered in each, identical in price, brand, and age.

Then, to really make it interesting, NOTHING is self-service. Ukraine makes New Jersey, with its gas pumping situation, seem cutting edge. Here, whether you want a roll of toilet paper, a bottle of shampoo, a bottle of vodka, or a kilo of raw pork fat, you have to ask for it.

All the merchandise sits on floor to ceiling shelves covering all available wall space, or glistens under glass cases that edge around the walls, trapping a two or three "shop assistants" in a U-shaped track. You, customer, wait in line to ask these assistants to get down what you want... and these ladies don't like to wait. You have about three seconds to blurt out what you hope they have in stock before other customers take your place. There's no browsing, no lingering over choices or musing "fettuccine or linguine?".

If you are brave (read: crazy/stupid) enough to BREAK THE TABOO and lean over the counter or open one of the freezer cases yourself you will be KICKED OUT OF THE STORE, since you are obviously a THIEF. (Thanks to Geoff, for "testing" this theory...)

Obviously Ukraine was not created with the mental health of medicinal shoppers (i.e. me) in mind.

The new supermarket, however, IS IS IS. It is expensive, YES! They have CAT FOOD, and it costs 11 hrivn ($2.20) a box instead of 8 hrivn ($1.60). But expensive means EMPTY, so you can walk up and down the THREE (3!!!) aisles and muse over which type of chocolate to buy to your heart's content.
Also, they have amazing IMPORTED food, like olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lasagna, and, best of all: BRIE.

Okay, Danish Brie, which, whaaaaat?


This is not what I expected.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Bow Down, Martha

I think the world needs to learn of MY COMPLETE AWESOMENESS.

Because I, Annie, am worthy of praise.

Today, I made honey-glazed wings.

Now, those of you unfamiliar with my culinary talents do not grasp how amazing today really was.

Let me fill you in:

I suck at cooking. You'd think that someone who loves to eat as much as I do would be at least a tiny bit capable in the kitchen. And you'd be wrong. My diet is pretty much made up of sandwiches and raw fruit or vegetables, with the occasional tuna-from-the-can (a splurgy treat, btw, at a buck fifty a pop.) Oh yes, and junk food, with chips and coke and chocolate serving two noble purposes: morale boosting and weight maintenance... because if I lose any more weight here in Ukraine literally all of my clothes will be too baggy to wear, and I'm still not likely to reach the size 3 that would let me buy new ones at the market.

So yes, OH MY GOD wings. Thank you amazing Internet access for giving me
the recipe, to the eight year old girl at the market who ran to all the vendors to find one who could dig out a jar of honey, and to Geoffrey, my site mate, who went out and bought me matches at some point so that my stove could be lit.

Everyone, mark this day in your calendars, because for the first time, I made something, all by myself, that tasted good. Now, when confronted with one of the more common questions asked by curious Ukrainians: "what do you eat?" I will no longer have to cringe in fear of their horrified responses and offers of lessons when I blurt out "uh, well, sandwiches?" I can proudly proclaim: CHICKEN. I CAN COOK CHICKEN. AND IT IS DELICIOUS.

I feel so grown up and competent. Now, if I could only convince myself that mopping the kitchen floor and washing my 300 dirty dishes is a good way to spend Sunday morning, I'd be set.

[update: I feel I must be open about some possible wing-related unpleasantness. I may have managed to give myself food poisoning. Again. Or maybe that's just how a body normally reacts to eating a pound and a half of chicken after a prolonged period of sandwiches. Eh, whatever, it was totally worth it.]

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Bats, Part II

Now that it's September the weather has magically gone from 95 degrees to 55, and I can close the windows without steaming myself. But, to preserve for posterity those wonderful moment when I thought rabies might be in my immediate future, a photo:

Also, you'll be pleased to note that I have achieved another level in my list of home invaders:
All that I have left to look forward to now are rats and Bratz. Sad, indeed.

Pavlov's Failure


There’s this thing about living in a formerly Soviet State, and that thing is:

lack of customer service.

I get how this started. Really, I do. Way back in the days of Lenin, shops are owned by the state. Things like profits, supply and demand, distribution of goods and competition are just terms you may (not) have heard about in some economics class. If you work all day, go as fast as you can, listen to requests and problems, it doesn’t mean smack. In fact, if you smile at the people coming in to buy stuff you might be acting a little too capitalistic and fall under suspicion.

So, instead, you might take a couple smoke breaks while people wait around, and if you’re a service provider you might wait a couple of days/weeks to get around to whatever it is your “customer” wants. Because, really, it doesn’t help you at all to do anything more efficiently- you’re getting paid anyway.

So yes, I, being culturally sensitive and respectful, etc. understand the history behind the practice.

What I just DON’T FRIKKEN GET is why this isn’t, well, HISTORY. Because yes, back in the USSR there was no gain to be had from doing your job today instead of next week.


I took PSYCH 101. I read all about Pavlov
and his hungry dogs. I know how this should work.

You own a shop. You have customers, to whom you provide services.

  • If service is good, and the customers are pleased, they come again. You earn more money. You survive.

  • If service is poor, customers go to one of the other shops selling the exact same products and you don’t earn money. You starve.

According to Pavvy, you should be conditioned to provide good service. You shouldn’t even have to try.


Somehow, instead of the customers -->service -->continued customers -->survival, you get:

Customer --> a month of waiting --> angry customer --> more waiting (and maybe breaks for coffee) --> irate customer-->no customer--> “whateva!”

This, my friends, is the magical collective memory of communism. THE ABILITY TO COMPLETELY IGNORE BOTH BASIC PSYCHOLOGY AND THE SURVIVAL INSTINCT. YES. And I just don't get it.

Friday, August 3, 2007

When It All Goes Animal Planet on You

I may not be in Africa, dodging lions and tigers and malaria filled mosquitoes. A snake isn’t just going to find its way into my third floor toilet. And there’s very little chance of getting trampled by a herd of wildebeests.

It’s the middle of the night, and for the second time in two weeks I’ve had BATS flying around INSIDE MY APARTMENT. Which is seriously not cool, yo.

I think this might be easier if I was living in a dirt floored hut. It’s not that I’m afraid of bats. Foot high fruit bats in Okinawa are cool. These little Crimean bats are tiny in comparison- the size of a matchbox car. Even if they tried they couldn’t bite anything off.

There’s just some sort of mental security, a guarantee of separation from the outside world which comes with having wallpaper and carpeting and throw-covered armchairs. A mental security that seeing a bat hanging in your lace curtains violates the hell out of.

It’s the same feeling as the frikken scariest amusement park ride ever: the swinging cabin Ferris wheel. Shoot me up high into the sky, blast me through twists and turns, hang me upside down, and I’m fine. Lock me into a gently swinging metal cage WITH NO SEATBELTS and push me up into the air and I will have a panic attack. Somehow those puny little lapbelts that Disney’s all about these days convinces my brain that there’s no danger to be had in seven stories of free-fall, and that when they’re missing I am obviously facing death. False security is so much more potent than reality.

NOTE: you know your brain has been strained when it’s making lists like:
Home Invaders:
  • cats
  • ants
  • bats
  • gnats
  • rats
  • Bratz

Oh so, other than the inside/outside issue, and the understandable fear of things dive bombing one’s head, I’m really afraid of my cat getting rabies, i.e. dying. Because when your vet makes $1 a visit there’s not really a “standard” set of vaccinations. There aren’t even standard operating hours.

So far I haven’t actually observed Sherlock biting a bat, but she’s tackled two of them to the ground. And for a “hunter” whose usual prey is stuff like the holes in notebook paper, this is pretty impressive.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

So, there’s something addicting about living alone. I am not a naturally neat person. My desk is always covered with bottles of lotion and half read books, my chairs are always full of not quite dirty clothes, and there is always a dish or two under my bed.

But you know, I live alone… and so this isn’t a problem. I KNOW where my wallet is located (on the shelf next to the five clean glasses,) and I’m not going to step on that DVD lying on the floor, because I PUT IT THERE.


1) The 2-hour Notice – It’s Sunday, and you get a telephone call saying your landlady/the Internet repair guys/ your host family/ your BOSS is going to drop by at, say, 7:00. It’s currently five; you’re still wearing that t-shirt you put on Friday after school. Your make-up isn’t so bad- kind of a Lindsey Lohan binge look. But EVERYTHING needs to disappear. Including the large pile of dirty dishes that may smell a little like tuna. It’s a good thing the balcony is so big.

2) The Insane Feline – Her name is Sherlock. She’s sort of a superhero of the cat world. She can rip down wall-hangings. Eat entire houseplants. Climb seemingly bare walls. You want your books balanced on that windowsill? WHAT AN OBVIOUS THREAT TO OUR WELL BEING. Lucky Sherlock’s around to knock things around and save the day.

3) Other People – Perhaps the greatest danger to the Deliberately Disorganized. It’s hard to believe, but not everyone understands that this is a SYSTEM. They may show NO REMORSE about adding to or even MOVING stuff. Also, some people just can’t watch where they put their feet. Just because it’s on the floor doesn’t mean it’s for WALKING ON. Duh.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

From the Trenches in a Losing Battle

It's 11:47 at night and I am in despair.
My apartment is being invaded, by ANTS. They're small, they're mindless, and they are TOTALLY WINNING the war against me. My kitchen is currently stripped of carpets, table clothes, food, dishes, everything except the cat bowl and the appliances. And they still come marching in. I've squished, I've poisoned, I've flooded them, I've put down cinnamon and sprayed them with vinegar, but they're unstoppable. I'm all for killing THEIR ENTIRE CIVILIZATION, but their strengths are not confined to sheer numbers and tenacity. They're SNEAKY. Their trail is hidden; it disappears into wooden shelving installed on the balcony, so I can't follow them home.
I'm seriously considering duct taping my balcony door closed. I'll just hang my laundry above the bathtub.