We are now finished with our brief stint in Kiev, Ukraine. <Insert choirs of angels singing “Hallelujah!” here> In the final weeks there, we celebrated our 1st wedding anniversary (picture is on our crappy apartment balcony… complete with chairs that stained your butt green, but we later went to a beautiful terrace dinner at Concord). I helped Jaro photograph The Chance final week. We feasted on varenyky at Pervak one last time. We got to enjoy a live concert from Elton John in the Fan Zone (fo free!). We found an incredibly chic and modern lounge/restaurant a few blocks from our place called Sad and went twice in three days. We went to the European Championship Final (and watched Spain embarrass Italy), any true football fan’s dream come true.
And now we’re home. When I sit down and think about it, living there on and off (more off for me than Jaro) was an interesting challenge…
Looking back on this year, not only did we have to adjust to a new life in Amsterdam, but we also had all this other incredible change: A new marriage, my decision to stop working, adjusting to occasional life Kiev… the list goes on. Out of all these big changes in our life, Kiev was our biggest challenge by far. I enjoyed our transition to Amsterdam and our Dutch life. Our new home. Our new friends. Hosting visitors. I have enjoyed not working. Instead, I’m working out. Learning to cook. Learning to take good photographs. Learning Dutch. So, what did I find so difficult about living in Ukraine?
1. Jaro worked all the time. All. The. Time. This was part of the deal though, right? I mean, someone has to pay the bills! Initially, I didn’t (couldn’t really) predict how lonely I would be. After my first trip in September (which I wrote candidly about here and here), I avoided going back to Kiev until the April visit when his family would be there to keep me company. I couldn’t stand to be alone, in a tiny apartment and once you see #4, it will make even more sense. Avoiding it may not have been the best idea or most courageous, but I rationalized it by remembering how much milder the winter was in Amsterdam. (Kiev, according to Jaro, was like this) Jaro continued going there regularly, which meant I was home alone in Amsterdam for much of the year. Sad face. Remember this pathetic dinner? Yep. Did that more times than I care to admit. But, being apart taught me to be self-motivated, keep myself busy and stay optimistic.
2. No one speaks English. And I don’t speak Ukrainian. Or Russian. See a disconnect there? I realize that is my own fault. I wasn’t there enough to take consistent language lessons. Or make friends. Living there without knowing the language was next to impossible. Thankfully, Jaro’s Ukrainian and understanding of Russian is what carried us through. He handled all the communication really. Over time, I became more comfortable winging it. Admitting I didn’t understand when people were talking to me. Trying to communicate anyway. Lots of hand motions and nervous laughing. This was a challenge!
3. The food. I go back and forth on this one. But really, it made things difficult for me. I LOVE varenyky as much as the next warm-blooded Eastern Euro (I am 1/2 Polish after all), but you can’t eat that every day! And as much as I tried to embrace cooking there, our cheap (provided) apartment utensils made it all but impossible. So did not having a dishwasher. I managed to “make the best of it” toward the end and just suck it up with a sink full of dishes each day. Jaro would often chip in with that. What a guy.
4. Our constant internet problems. I can’t even really get into it; I’ll have a hysterical fit. In short, for the last two months we didn’t have a connection at all. After multiple phone calls and technician visits, we gave up. (Sidenote: What did people do before the internet? Watch TV?) Oh and CNN, our only English TV station, stopped working too. So what the heck would I do? Go for walks. Slow ones. Read. Sit outside and enjoy the sun.
5. The fashion. Women of Kiev, take note: There is NOTHING chic about wearing stilettos with exposed nails in the heels that make that horrible clicking sound as you wobble around. Also, there is nothing chic about you stepping on my foot with said exposed nail at a concert and causing it to bleed. I may hang onto that grudge for awhile… at least until this cut
Again, the list goes on. For someone (i.e. me) used to western comforts, it’s just a tough place to live. I found myself sighing a lot. Taking deep breaths a lot. Crying
a lot. However, as I reflect on my time there, I realized the impact it had on me.
I am so proud.
I’m proud, firstly, of my husband. He did some tremendous things over there, including this for an underprivileged community in Kiev. With the well-known corruption and other problems in Ukraine, I am just so proud that he made it happen along with everything else that he worked on this year. He made friends and bonded with a lot of talented, wonderful people. He is inspiring in so many ways. And to be a loving, thoughtful and romantic husband as well? As frustrated as I got with his demanding schedule, at the end of the day, I realize I’m quite lucky.
I’m proud also of myself. It’s not easy to give up a career, move abroad and spend so much time in a country where standards are not as high. It’s actually really hard. But you know what? The lessons I learned there will last me the rest of my life. To be more positive. To be more patient. To be more kind.
…To still laugh at some of the outrageous fashion. And cringe at the heels.
I’m thankful for my time in Ukraine. Now it’s time for the new challenge.
P.S. I might miss the mad scientist door across the hall from us. Just a little bit.