Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Leaving Poltava..Onto Kiev

My hotel called a taxi who silently (the driver spoke no English) got me to the train station. There I chatted with a young family from Kharkiv, a large city to the east of Poltava on the border of Russia. They are Jewish, had studied in Israel and explained that there are now about 3,000 Jews in Poltava. Being that presently Poltava’s population is about 300,000, Jews now comprise about one percent …

The train, unlike my previous long ventures from Budapest to Iasi and from Odessa to Poltava was relatively fast. It was first class with nice seats – Russian soap operas were screened on the ceiling mounted TVs and there was a snack bar. Beer and vodka were actively imbibed, despite the morning hour. Upon arrival in Kiev as always I was accosted by a rip off taxi-driver. I attempted to take advantage of the situation by asking to use his cell phone in that mine had been unable to accommodate a Ukrainian chip. We called my hosts, Erik and Julia who then told me how to take the subway and a tram over towards their apartment. The taxi-driver got pissed that I wasn’t going to use his services and demanded payment for the use of his cell phone. I paid him a little over $1 and eventually he stopped fuming.

Suddenly I was thrust into a mega-city with a huge metro system. My eyes popped as I rode shown a steep escalator—I steadied myself by asking endless questions of any English speaker around to be sure I got on the right train. Next I was supposed to transfer to a tram…the one I was looking for didn’t seem to exist—soon I found out I was standing in the wrong area and was walked to a completely different end of the plaza. Eventually one came and I pronounced my destination as Russianly as possible. I got off in what looked like the middle of nowhere and looked for someone with a cell phone. I found an English speaking woman who called my hosts, after some Russian chatter, she then walked me over to a bench where Julia, a pretty Ukrainian young woman soon arrived. I followed her up the six flights of her apartment building wherein I met her 1 ½ year old daughter, Sophia and Erik, her husband who hails from the SF Bay area. Julia went off to teach Polish classes (she holds degrees in law and Polish) and Erik and Sophia showed me around Kiev. In the evening Julia caught up with us and I bought them dinner at a pizza parlor.

Erik has been an on and off expat for upwards of 20 years. The low cost of living and the abundance of beer seems to have grown on him. Having not spoken rapid conversational English in a while, he was unfamiliar with some of the terms and phrases I was using. We were both amused. He’d lived a rough and tumble existence as a drug dealer (pot, LSD, ecstasy) and a web designer (very acidy looking graphics) but since the birth of Sophia has focused on being a house husband (a rare profession in the Ukraine).

After about a half a glass of beer I grew sleepy (my standard response) and after countless bottles Erik became increasingly talkative. Witnessing my diminished energy to chime into the once animated patter, he and Julia suggested I go to bed. They live in a small apartment studio apartment – I slept on a bed that was on the other side of a divider wherein they and Sophia watched pirated TV downloads like True Blood and Desperate Housewives.

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