My previous Maschrutka voyage in Petersburg had been over-filled and stinky and scary. The two Mashrotka rides today, however, had seats enough for everybody and were pretty darned pleasant. On out first ride, a woman entered and then rode two stops without paying. Payment is 3 Grivna, no matter how far you’re going. One either pays the driver directly or hands the money forward, person to person, it the bus is full. The driver stayed at the stop and told the woman had to pay. She had a heated exchange with the driver and then left the bus without paying. Ivo then explained that she’d said “what about the foreigners?” (referring to us.) The driver answered “They’ve paid; 1-2-3.” I think that she was assuming that he’d charged us a foreigner’s price and so she should be able to ride free on his profits.
Here there are often different prices for foreigners. If prices are written somewhere, they’ll often have a lower price advertised in Cyrilic and a higher price advertised in English. Failing that, the price quoted verbally will vary with language. When Ivo and I first went to St. Petersburg, an effort to buy a SIM card for his handy was met with a flat refusal. When Ivo told his local friends, they said that this was just because he was a foreigner and needed to be more assertive. Sure enough, another visit to the Handy shop yielded a card, likely more pricey than any one sold to a Russian.
Last night, we met with Ivo’s hosts from 5 years ago. Pacha has been promoted to a chief engineer and edits and corrects other engineer’s plans. Natascha (Pacha’s cousin) was recently married to the man who accompanied herself and Ivo to that same outdoor museum we visited, lo those five years ago. She works in imports customs for a private company in Kiev and told us about a colleague who took a job at customs in the airport shortly before the Eurocup. He has since complained that there is no possibility of receiving bribes and that the job is far worse for it. Natascha explained that bribes, in her job, are simply an expected part of the system. Similarly, the expectation to refute accusations of taking bribes is equally part of the system.
The two cousin’s English has apparently improved a lot in the past 5 years. Either that or they refused to speak to Ivo in English before so that he could practice his Russian. Whatever it may be, they were able to express themselves very well in English at an increasing rate as the beer and vodka was poured. We watched the Portugal Czec game while having long and intense conversations about everything under the sun (philosophy, biology, anthropology,...) in which every long-winded exchange ended in someone calling someone else a “botanist” (Ukranian for nerd.) Natascha shared a homemade “aphorismus”: women fake orgasms and interest in football. She seemed more interested in talking about pop-culture and personal lives than evolution and prejudices. The evening ended with promises to see one another again. This is made more likely by the fact that Natascha is hooking us up with an apartment for Tobi and Patricia, who are coming tomorrow. I’ll head with Vladi to pick them up at the train station at 8am while Steff and Ivo head to the datcha before us, earlier in the morning. We’ll all meet up at the datcha and grill and swim, we’ve been told. Today is another sweltering day and we’ll head downtown to pick up souveniers.
And we did.
One of my favorite things to do with Ivo when travelling is “guess the person”. We’ll be sat somewhere and see someone and guess where they’re from and why they are here. In Kiev at the moment, most people’s nationalities are either presented in large letters on their chests or with flags painted on to their faces. Nevertheless, we still find occasions to guess at more subtle citizens.
While sitting outside the café after our Chernobyl museum visit, Ivo spotted a woman and began: “She’s an American art student.” Apparently she resembled many different American art history students he’d known in the past. As I was still clearing my brain after the museum, I didn’t truly play along, but as I stood up to go find the restroom, I ducked my head down and told Ivo quietly, “her fork is in her left hand;” thus not contributing to, but crushing the game.
Yesterday we took the metro from its farthest western point (though it appears that construction is leading the way to further Metro stations.) As we headed into the cars, a young woman opposite us considered standing and then decided to sit. As she transferred her backpack onto her lap I observed that she had a Futurama t-shit, with red collar and short sleeve hems. Her hair was frizzy and to her shoulders, nothing held it back except her massive headphones. She closed her eyes as she sat and listened. She did not tap her feet, which were in some sort of rafting sandal.
“American:” I began, “Shoes.”
“Canadian:” Says Ivo “backpack. Or German?”
“Nope, American: Futurama Tshirt.”
“Hmmm,” says Ivo
“Canadian,” I say “eyes closed on a rush hour train?”
“Canadian sophomore on a trip alone. Her grandparents are Ukrainian.” Ivo contributes.
“She’ll be a sophomore in the fall. She’s not sure if she wants to transfer schools because no one at college seemed to get her.” I continue.
This woman remained a mystery to us. Her eyes remained closed and she sat in her seat as the train became more and more full. Eventually we were at our stop and departed the train and will never know where the hell that lady was from or where she was going.
This reminds me of my obsession with an old pedestrian overpass n Providence. I would sit on the foot-bridge over to India Point park and watch all of the people driving places and try to imagine where they were going and why. Now and again a truck would speed under and the old bridge would sway slightly and I’d love feeling moved by the movement of these vehicles. I think that the initial motivation to hang out there came from my summer in the hospital. I’d been encouraged to walk around, but didn’t really like to. It wasn’t just the movement (it was partially the movement) but that not many people want to walk around wearing a johnny while pushing a massive IV tree around swinging their daily nutrition. I never knew where I was supposed to be going because pacing the halls didn’t seem that great but leaving the wing seemed like it would disturb the hospital employees and visitors. The nurses also didn’t really like me to go by myself, as I had a habit of feeling woozy.
So I’d push my IV tree just outside the wing to the large windows that overlooked the large street that ran between the two wings of the building. People emerged from the Orange line and if I leaned my head against the window I could see foot and car traffic on Washington St. I would watch the people and try to judge how hot it was outside from their clothing and pace. Where I was it was the same temperature the entire month: mildly chilly. But out there, those people had temperature fluctuation; they had places to go. Some people had lunches in bags that were solid, not bags of foods in intravaeneous form. These people had important, annoying, envigorating, gauling, pleasant lives. Maybe their visiting someone or just going for noodles. Maybe they work around here or are tourists in search of Chinatown. Maybe their med-students or are heading in for a colonoscopy. Maybe they just want a coffee at one of the city’s 3,000 Au Bon Pains and the New England Medical Center location is most convenient.
Now the footbridge to India Point has been newly built and wouldn’t sway if a herd of elephants were racing beneath it. Sure, there are still families, employees, employers and young couples speeding underneath it, but I don’t get to feel a part of it anymore. Not if the bridge doesn’t shake from their momentum.