Cliff Gardner

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


I've made friends with two Ukrainian men named Dima and Sasha who live in my town. They're really awesome folks who are trying to learn English. Since I'm trying to learn Russian, it works out nicely. We've gone to the beach after work a few times and yesterday they took me to a basketball court and we played for a few hours. I think a few things about the basketball court situation in my town need to be said--well, mostly just one thing--the courts are terrible! The rims are slightly to severely bent, there's trash and graffiti on everything, and there are giant crater-sized potholes all over the court, so driving the lane isn't really possible. Consequently, given those conditions and the 3-point line that's only six inches back from the top of the key, shooting is basically the only thing that matters (since driving means falling in a hole, literally). Since shooting is really the only thing I do well, Sasha and Dima have a very inflated opinion of my basketball skills after I beat them both at the same time 25-9. Oh, and we're teaching each other how to trash talk on the court in our respective languages, which is always fun. I love my job!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

After a while you just stop counting the Speedos

Me: I think I accidentally cheated on you.

Jess: Umm...ok...accidentally?

Me: Yea. I saw some boobs that weren't yours. Lots of 'em.


Jess: You went to the beach, didn't you?

Me: I wanted to go someplace and read. It seemed like a good idea at the time...

Jess: Hahahahaaaaa! Look, it's not your fault people go topless over here.

Me: I know, but I still feel guilty for some reason.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Bring your own toilet paper...or else.

When I get bored over here (which isn't often, believe me), I ask myself broad philosophical questions, like "is there such a thing as a FULL marshutka (mini-buses that people--often entire towns--ride around town)? Will I ever find a way to get rid of the tiny ants that have invaded my apartment? And finally, is there such a thing as a clean public toilet in Ukraine?" The answer to all of these questions appears to be an unfortunate NO. I've solved the marshutka over-crowding by walking pretty much everywhere and I'm going to buy some anti-ant spray soon which will hopefully help me commit ant-mass-murder, but the public toilet question is a bigger issue. Finding a place to...go...outside of my apartment is easier for me than for women because the "pay" toilets in city-centers and train stations often amount to a hole in the ground. My solution has been to find the nearest McDonalds because they really are toilet oasis'.

School is almost done over here and it's starting to get hot. I wore shorts the other day when my friend Michael visited and we played catch on the beach (yay for baseball!), and the Victory Day celebration in the center of town was really fun. I love and miss you all!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Spare some change. No, I insist.

One of the most entertaining and quirky things about Ukraine is how change is given whenever something is payed for. It's been my experience that the Ukrainian service industry really hates to give change and honestly would prefer it if everything was rounded to the nearest Griven (UA currency). Back home, the store was responsible for providing exact change and no one really seemed to care about this fact. Here, though, the change-giving burden is often switched--like, if something costs $1.05 and the lowest bill I have is a $2, I would be expected to pay $2.05 so they can just give me a Griven bill back. If something costs $1.05 I the lowest change I have is $1.10, or if I don't happen to have any change in the first example, the person working will do one of the following:

1) glare at me and possibly make some snide comment under their breath while going through the tiresome process of counting to 95.

2) give me something small, like a little candy that costs 5 Kopecs (cents), to avoid having to wade into the murky change drawer.

The candy example happens to me a few times a week and the first time it happened I was really, really entertained by it. When I was buying some floss last weekend at an Apteka (pharmacy), the woman working there gave me a vitamin instead of my 10 Kopec change. Awesome. :-)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

On a Russian Train

I didn’t have classes for the last few days so I decided to head back up north to visit Jessica again. Below are some highlights:

1) Discussing bike-pooling. It’s like car-pooling…but on a bike. Back home, it wasn’t really rare to see more than one person riding the same bicycle, but the riders were almost exclusively teenagers, standing on the kickstand things on the back, and there was never more than one person-per-bike. In Ukraine, it’s common to see entire families—three, even four people of all ages—riding on the same bike. We wondered how 80 year old babushkas (grandmas) manage to get on the handle bars while carrying what appears to be a Sunday dinner for 12 in their arms without the whole thing toppling over. It really is quite something to watch, and every time I see a family going out for a ride, I hum Queen’s “Bicycle” to myself.

2) Taking out the trash. You wouldn’t think this would qualify as an event, but in her town it really is. See, for the first few months after she moved in, Jess often wondered where her neighbors took her trash when they collected it twice a week since she was unable to find the dumpsters that were used by her and the adjacent apartment buildings herself despite several searches. Finally, she realized the truth—there were no dumpsters. Three times a week, a garbage truck carrying a dumpster arrives in the courtyard and people line up with their trash. It’s quite the social occasion, and I got to witness it first-hand. Fun times.

3) Riding in first class for the first time. I think that my Russian skills are progressing nicely (although I’m still planning on getting a tutor next year) and I rarely have trouble understanding people or getting across what I mean, with one exception—whenever I talk to the mean ladies who work at ticket offices, or “kassas” in Russian. It seems that every angry, annoyed lady in the country all decided that selling tickets to foreigners would be a good way to take out their frustration, because I have yet to attempt to buy a ticket on my own without getting yelled at and pushed to, and often over, the brink of tears by these people.

Whenever I know I’ll need to buy a ticket, I prepare what I’m going to need to say ahead of time and often practice in front of other people first, just to make sure I’ve got it down. However, one look from their very intimidating faces and I often freeze up like Peter Billingsly in “A Christmas Story” when he tries to tell Santa that he wants a bb gun and ends up with a football and a boot in the face. Even when I do get my monologue out without messing it up, I’m often met with a gruff “niet” (no), without any explanation, or worse, with a very fast and angry explanation. Believe me, I have lots of stories about these folks straight up lying to my face about the availability of tickets for specific trains/buses and about them charging me more just to be ornery. This weekend in particular, ticket-buying was terrible because there weren’t any “electricas” or “fast trains” from Jess’ site to Kyiv, where I had a ticket booked to go back home tonight, because of the holiday. After several unsuccessful attempts, Jess and I found the youngest woman working at the station (young=nice) and she sold me the last ticket to Kyiv she had—a first class seat for 47 griven (usually it costs 8) on a train that was passing through her town at 5:50 from Moscow, on the way to Kyiv. That meant that Jess couldn't’t spend the day with me in Kyiv like we had planned and that I had to spend about six times as much as I usually do.

4) It snowing. ON MAY 2ND! Remember when they turned off the heat in mid-April and Jess and I thought it was a bad idea? Just saying...

As always, my visit with Jess was fun, productive, exciting and really happy and I can’t wait until we can see each other again. Above is a picture of us taken during her visit to Ochakiv a few weeks back. See that, right there? That's what happiness looks like. :-)