Complacency 10.30.07

So this is something that has been brewing inside of me for awhile.  Ukraine has just had elections that ended in predictable results, which bear evidence to the fact that people don't want change.  That is to say, the election results show this, but if you talk with the people at the grassroots level, the data would show quite the opposite.  Things are shitty here.  Many things are mafia-run- to the point that it's accepted and joked about.  Universities, government, hospitals, schools, police.  This makes for a bad situation with no accountability.  We know this. But, here's where I make the connection.

Americans, for what I can tell (as I've been away for a year) seems discontent.  I included.  But, WHAT THE FUCK ARE THE PEOPLE DOING? NOTHING!!!  Like Ukrainians.  So, it's easy for me to criticize Ukrainians as it isn't my culture.  But, they retort back- "and your president?"  What am I to say?

We need to be more proactive.  "We" meaning Americans, Ukrainians, French, Albanian, etc.  We hold the power. I know it is often forgotten because it's easier to pass the blame to other people.  Hey, it was the Soviet way...super frustrating to see and experience every day, but we do.  We are the money.  Without us, the governments are nothing.  We need to take grassroots actions!  That isn't to say we need to stand on the streets and protest (though that may help), but we can choose to walk to the store, purchase goods from small businesses, provide local education, volunteer for an hour a week...

I know it's easy to talk to your friends and bitch about corruption.  I see if here every day, but more than that has to happen.  We are unhappy.  We are unfairly represented.  People really hate us Americans.

Not to get all American on you asses, but I am teaching two classes right now.  One is American Lit and the other, American Country Studies.  I have been rereading about the American Revolution and the first American authors.  And let me tell you, they didn't liberate America from Britain by purely talking to their friends.  yes, this was the beginning, but it went much further than that.  They took action.  And remember- Actions speak louder than words.  This may all seem cliche, but I believe it to be part of the truth.

I have a hard time instilling these values into my students.  I don't promote a particular political agenda, but when my students say to me: "But, Miss Bruce, your president creating war you all money have.  Why?"  I feel a sense of guilt.

Do I explain to them the complexities of this loaded question?


Princess Toadstool- 09.07.07

I'd been anticipating this time of the year since my arrival.  I've heard so much about how fun this activity is and how it's a national past time.

Mushroom hunting takes patience and a set of good eyes.  I guess it's a good thing there is an abundance of carrots in this country.  I left at 6:00 am with my friend, Sasha.  We listened to horrible techno music early in the morning after a night of vodka drinking.  In fact, this whole adventure came about after I opened my big mouth saying I had never been mushroom hunting.  So a bit hungover, I was cursing myself on the 40-minute drive to "the perfect place" to find mushrooms the next morning.

I was told to wear pants because we'd  be in the forest; so I wore jeans, sneakers, and a t-shirt.  It was extremely hot.  We parked the car in the middle of nowhere.  Seriously, it was the middle of the forest.  We had a wicker basket, knife, and our phones.  You wouldn't believe all the mushrooms in the forest!  They're everywhere; not all edible of course.

Now it's a good thing I wore pants because we were in the forest...i mean it was like the jungle- like Nam, swamp foot and all.  We were on our knees climbing through branches, mosquito swarms, mud, prickly vines,  stinging nettle- all in the name of mushroom.

Once you learn the art of mushroom hunting an the different kinds of mushrooms, it becomes like an addiction trying to find the next shroom...mabe like a junkie looks for his next fix.  It's awesome.  We spent four hours in the steamy woods and came home with an overflowing basket of white mushrooms and about 100 mosquito bites that eventually became infected blisters on my legs.

Hot I tell you.





I'm in Mostar, Bosnia and the weather is perfect- warm with a breeze.  I'm having a glass of wine enjoying the Turkish bridge.  This city is really interesting and beautiful in a way I have never seen before.  It's a tragic and intense place.  There are buildings totally blown out next to lovely new buildings.  Bullet holes cover all buildings not yet restored.  The bullet holes are centered around all the windows of the homes and buildings.  I just wonder how many people died here.  The second worst fighting on the war happened between the two sides of this river- just meters apart.  How much blood and hate filled these waters for what amounted to nothing.  The people still all live here together.  It makes me physically ill to see and think about this much destruction and hate and lost lives.

This city rests in a mountain valley with a cross perched above the minurets of the mosques.  People seem to be living prosperously (in the eye of the traveler) around the constant reminders of war.  I can't help but think of the way Iraq must be and the deeply-rooted anger and hate.  Why does it have to be like this?

I am amazed at the amount of restoration and the spirit of the people after living through such horror.  Especially with the incessant visuals of the past.  With the number of graveyards filled with their fathers, sons, brothers, husbands.  I've never been in a place with such a recent disaster and it really makes me think about the human race and the direction we're heading

I'm up all night, gettin' the money right...

This was the longest night ever after the longest day ever, only to be proceeded by the longest train ever back to Ukraine.  I had a meltdown on the train because the people refused to open a window and it was so ridiculously hot. It wasn't pretty.  I definitely put my language skills to use.  And, this all happened before this picture was taken.  This is an all-nighter outside the Budapest train station.  Of course we happened to be traveling through the city during the biggest music festival in Eastern Europe.  No hostels were to be found.  And it was raining.  

At least I got a fabulous tan.


Haiku Maddness

During a delirious day sitting and doing absolutely nothing in my apartment, I thought it a good time to begin my poetry career.

Still air and sweat beads
Dripping down with no end in sight
Nothing can be done

He whispers to me
After hours of hot sex
"I need the river."

Sidebar: check out above photo.  Really?  The river?

Maybe it's horse shit
rotting trash, ripe human, dogs?

It's not from vodka
A hangover lasting years
She's in denial

No water today
No kalonka* to blow up
Dirty with eyebrows
*my kalonka is my hot water heater that often blows up.  It's as scary as it sounds

Feet full of blisters
Dirt fills my nail beds, still
better than the rest

Never-ending line
Finally I reach the front
15-minute break


Surfin' Safari

Once I make in onto this death trap, my heart starts to pound.  This is a lot of pressure.  First of all, I never know how much it's going to cost, which means I have to communicate with strangers.  This is stressful.  Next, I have to figure out if I am on the right marshrutka.  More stress.  Once this business if taken care of, I need to find a seat.  Well, I am usually kicked out of whatever seat I have situated myself into because an elder babusya wants my warm seat.  Whatever.  I stand.

Instantly there is a new soundtrack in my head.  Most of you are familiar with the Beach Boys Endless Summer album, right?  This album is perfect for what is about to take place.  You are probably thinking this seems a little out of place since I am not in California or a GTO; you have no idea.  I have learned to surf in Ukraine, albeit "marshrutka surfing".  This marshrutka has no shocks (surprise) and Ukrainian roads suck (I have suspicion this is a remnant of the Soviet Union- the Soviets didn't want people to be mobile, so they laid shitty roads) so it makes for a bumpy ride standing up.  I compare this to Waimea Bay.  One is required to develop marshrutka legs in order to maintain balance.  The standing position is much life surfing- legs 2-3 feet apart, knees slightly bent (don't lock the knees), and arms a bit out to the side.  There are no railings.  Again, shocker!  Fear is probably written all over my face, but I ride the wave safely to my destination every time.  Upon disembarking this time machine, I think to myself "Lauren-1, Ukraine-0" and imagine a throng of those foam #1 hands cheering me on.

I've learned to appreciate my little triumphs.


Fly By Night


Ukrainian flies are dumb.  I've never had a knack for killing flies, but here in Ukraine I deserve a black belt.  Even Hellen Keller could catch the flies here.  The ones that are fast- maybe 1 out of 100 are so dumb they kill themselves.

Proof #1:  It's been nice here so I've opened my windows to air out my flat.  Well, I didn't anticipate the number of roommates I would acquire.  The first day brought about 11 flies into my kitchen.  "Well, at least I'll have something to do" was my initial thought.  This will keep me busy for an hour or so.  Or so I thought.  Not so fast, Lauren.  The first fly was a goner in 30 seconds.  I thought it was a fluke.  So I continued after the second.  Boom! 15 seconds.  What the fuck!  "They can't be this dumb", I thought.  I decided to test their intelligence.  Weapon of choice: a one-inch long Russian match.  I killed 9 flies with this match in about 3 minutes; it only took that long because I wanted to see how slow I could come at them before they would fly away.  Conclusion: they don't.  It's almost as if they're begging to die.

Proof #2:  So, I sit down last night to reread my Newsweek for the third time, this time for the advertisements, when I hear an annoying zzzz...zzzz.  Here we go again.  So I get up to kill him remembering how dumb these flies are.  But, this one seems smarter than the average Dima.  I chase him around my apartment for 15 minutes (I'm easily entertained) when all of a sudden the fly does the weirdest thing.  He's on his back on the ceiling, flying in circles, like he can't figure out which way is up.  This continues for a good 2 minutes until he finally remembers how to fly again.  Then he flies directly down the hall into the living room, directly to the light and fries himself.  He literally landed right on the hot lightbulb and sat there screaming for some seconds.   And then I just saw a silhouette of him fall to the bottom of the light through the golden lampshade.   He killed himself.  WTF?

Cheap thrills.


Blitzkrieg by Turkeys

Some recent observations: 

1.  If you see an ear on the ground, it's real.  There are no fake ear gags here.
2.  The word for vacuum is pillosauce.  Coincidence?  Gross?
3.  You can never have enough florescent fake flowers or clocks set to the wrong time.  Or can you?
4.  If somebody asks you if you want some potatoes, they'll give you enough to feed the Red Army. I don't know how many potatoes they think a single girl can eat.
5.  If a tree is in the middle of the road, it's not growing there naturally.  It's a warning that the road is under construction.
6.  If you're a woman and you smoke, walk alone, or get a taxi, you are a prostitute.  Looks like I'm the dirtiest whore in town.
7.  Everyone knows what I eat because whatever I buy at the market is conversation the next day around town.
8.  Ukrainians love banana bread and mayonnaise with anything and everything.
9.  Example: a "shuba" (fur coat) salad- anchovies, beets, sour cream, cabbage, peas, egg, and mayonnaise.  Fucking NAST!  But they sure have a sense of humor.
10.  The rubbery lump in your soup is chicken heart.
11.  Trash cans?
12.  This is a tribute to my mother: She always said that it hurts to be beautiful, but does that include a blitzkrieg by turkeys?  Apparently the don't like red or magenta.  But, it's such a cute scarf.


Cabbage Rolls

She stands low to the fertile soil of this country with thick ankles and her high rubber boots keeping her firmly planted.  She loves to layer.  People here would say she dresses like a cabbage (or maybe just me) because under the boots is another pair of shoes, and from what I can tell, 2-3 layers of wool stockings.

You will never see her in pants, but rather a knee-length skirt that reveals the trunks of her legs.  Moving our way up to the top of her torso, I have to revert to speculation because I've never seen her without her coat on- even indoors.  Over this mass she continues with the earth-stained, long vintage coat (vintage by default, not fashion) being the top layer.  Underneath (speculation) I am able to see at least three more layers of clothing, which means there is probably 5-6.  A wool vest and two mismatched shirts- one of the floral variety, though variety of floral is indiscernible- play peek-a-boo from the sleeves of the coat.

At the end of these sleeves emerge solid, tick hands that look like they haven't been washed in days, maybe weeks.  Soil surrounds each nail, framing her hard, yellow fingernails.  Each digit looks like it's been individually calloused by years of fire and frost.  They look like petrified cocktail wieners (slightly longer).

She may or may not have a scarf around her neck, but she is sure to have one around her head.  Up till this point, the color scheme (liberal choice of words) is earth-toned (literally).  But the scarf around her head sticks out like an American in Ukraine.  There are two options for this scarf: 1) a brilliant green, royal blue, or marigold with a floral design and a gold thread woven in and out, 2) a solid florescent pink, yellow, or orange wool.  This scarf is tightly tied beneath her chin.  Sometimes so tight I find it amazing that the hairs on her chin don't fall out from loss of circulation.  They don't.

Her face looks 20 years older than she is.  Her eyes have sunken into her leathered skin and have turned gray along with her wiry hair.  She has a large, almost bulbous nose.  She has no lips, for they too play hide-and seek with her mouth.  Her mouth resembles a balloon knot, with one crucial difference.  Inside this knot, she hides the treasure.  She has a smile of gold- though rarely seen.

She is aggressive.  Being low to the ground, she has a lot of leverage when pushing you to get on to the marshrutka (fixed-route bus).  She never waits in the "line".  She doesn't smell good- poop: her own, goose, pig, turkey, goat.  But, she can make some damn good cabbage rolls.  In fact, this is what I often think of when I see her because she is shaped just like the traditional Ukrainian dish.

Who is this woman? She is the woman sweeping the sidewalks, the woman selling jarred mushrooms at the bazaar, the woman herding her geese, my neighbor, the woman who stole my seat on the bus, the woman who tells me I'm a slut for smoking.  She is the Ukrainian babusya.


Walt Disney

This is Ukraine's equivalent to Disneyworld.



Journal Entry January 24th, 2007

I'm 25 and I have two wrinkles.  This depresses me.

My walk to school takes about 35 minutes at a rather swift pace.  By the time I get to school I am sweating with all the layers I have on.  By the time I get home, I am rather excited and pooped (literally and figuratively-there are no bathrooms at school yet.).  Once I see the blue fence (the same matte cerulean) outside school #6, I know I've reached the homestretch.  All I need to do is round the bend at the "nursing home", dodge a few mud puddles, straight ahead 3 minutes.

Anyway, I'm walking pack from school on my birthday a bit stressed because I have told my host family that I would cook for them, as per tradition here.  This will be my first time cooking in a Ukrainian kitchen.  They're different.  I'm a little out of practice to say the least.  It's been 4 months since I've cooked anything and I wasn't a pro to begin with.  It's really windy and for the past 31 minutes I've been walking into the wind.  I am anxious to get home and plan my lessons for the following day, knowing that the night is going to entail a lot of vodka drinking (it did).

I see my house, but I also see a rogue "piven"- aka rooster.  Never a good sign!  He's black.  He's big.  He looks pissed to see me.  I, too, am pissed to see him.  You see, I have a fear of rogue roosters.  I immediately stop because he starts making some noise at me.

"Shit! What do I do now", I think.
I look around.  There's no alternate route to the front door.  I notice that the other chickens have ostracized this guy too.  So, I back away as not to piss the bird off any more.  
"I'll have to wait it out", I think to myself.

Meanwhile, there is a car up ahead parked outside the neighbor's gate.  He's facing me and watching this whole thing go down.  I know he's heard that there is an American in town and there's not a doubt in his mind that he is watching her now.  I know he's thinking this girl (me) is crazy.  (He's not far off.)

This exacerbates the situation.  This bird is in my way and he's making me look like an ass in front of this man.

"Who's afraid of a stupid rooster?!", I wonder in an attempt to calm myself.  
I decide to just kick him and begin to take a step in his direction.  Well, the rooster isn't having any of this and fluffs his feathers and makes a horrible noise. 
 "Fuck!  How long am I going to have to wait here?"
As I wait, I think about he old children's joke about the chicken crossing the road and I begin to curse that joke too.  Why DOESN'T the chicken cross the fucking road?! Huh?  That's what I want to know.

Finally, the man in the car turns the ignition and begins to move.  "Perfect! I'll time my passing of the rooster with his", I decide.  That way he'll be between the bird and myself.  If the fucker wants to attack me, he'll have to go around the car, buying me time.  

The plan is a success.  I get home 55 minutes after leaving school.  As I open the front door I laugh to myself,  "I've just been cock-blocked on my birthday."

Ukraine puts a whole new twists on things.