Friday, October 07, 2005

Ignorance, a celebration

So I've been in town for more than three weeks now, and I feel like a snowflake caught in the wind, or a little boy so wide-eyed he doesn't even mind that he's lost in the woods. I have literally no idea what is going on. And I mean everywhere. This morning, I awoke to my usual cup of instant coffee (after almost a month, I can only be bothered with my French Press and coffee grinder on special ocassions, like a political coup) and while watching TV I saw that there was a vaccine developed, for cancer, but only 90 to 95 percent -- what? It's only that effective, or doesn't work on all of the cancers? And what's this, more than ten terrorists in New York's subway? On the loose? What's the mayor saying? Some silly Russian is talking over him, or is that Ukrainian? I couldn't figure it out. Only two or three of my channels speak Russian (the others are Ukrainian), and even if I'm watching one of them I understand just enough to know the Kharkiv football team lost again, or if I should fear for my life -- like, if the newscaster gets up halfway through her sentence and sprints off-screen, I get a little suspicious. Then I'll mosey out into the stairwell, coffee still in hand, and look around to the three doors circling away from my own. Anything wrong? An asteroid maybe? Is The Plague back? It's like I have undergone a lobotomy. In the states I was a political junkie, watching Chris Matthews enough to call him a friend; I had an opinion on everything. But here I know nothing -- about the United States, about Ukraine, about Russia and Europe (some kind of mix-up in Germany apparently? Haven't the foggiest). It is of course quite comforting, and refreshing, but then I visit the other blogs that focus on Ukraine and they're all a-buzz with word of the Post-Timoshenko Shake-Up, and I turn away from it all feeling like I should be fitted for a conical hat and shown to the nearest dark corner. Now sit there till you wise up. Thing is, this is probably how millions of Mexican-Americans live everyday in California, completely detached from the surrounding American culture -- perhaps even the four or five guys (their numbers changed, their faces too) who lived in the apartment next to mine in Davis. We spoke only once, when a Russian train ticket I'd ordered was mistakenly delivered to their door instead of my own. The guy I spoke with knew no English. His face was wild with fear. He wanted only for this transaction to be over with, to close the door and return to his comprehensible life. What's the Spanish word for train? I had forgotten -- I knew the Russian word, that's what I'd been studying, but now I couldn't recall the Spanish. There, I said. It's right behind you. Yes, the DHL package, that's it.

Anyways, you may have noticed I've said little to nothing about the mail-order bride scene here in Kharkiv. That's because I haven't even been bothering myself with it, what with my settling in and various physical set-backs, which seem to be on the mend. The internet cafe from which I now type (a place that always has on one of its computer's drop-down menus) attracts a number of tourists and foreigners, and I know I've seen a westerner or two in here looking through the mail-order bride sites. (I also felt dirty, as if I were touching myself in public, when I needed to research the history of Cherry Blossoms, the first really successful "mail-order bride agency." I felt like all the people around me were thinking: Another American, here for the women.) Anyways, I haven't approached any of these men at the internet cafe, but I plan to in the future. And I haven't heard any exchanges between them either, like another American in town has. His first day here, he heard two Americans swapping stories: this agency's good, that one's bad, have you communicated with this woman? One of these guys was in a wheelchair, and he was still in town, still slugging away at his computer, some 10 days later.

So, I promise more on all that later; for the time being, I'm just settling in. It's only this week that I've been walking around the city in any rambling sort of way, taking in the neighborhoods like you need to do. So, in many respects, it's like I've just left my apartment (the stairwell to which is pictured above).

Now I'm off to class, the end of my second week teaching. Everything's going great on that front. A wonderful group of students from A to Z. They're reading the materials, and talking in class, and for the most part showing up, and I've even found a couple of writers, young women who I think are really excited to be learning about the craft of fiction writing, something that otherwise might be unavailable to them. They're the ones who make teaching so worthwhile. And I think they'll produce some really interesting stories -- distinctly Russian stories too (I asked one class what they consider themselves, Russian or Ukrainian, and not a one said Ukrainian). Maybe I'll be able to post some of this writing here. I'm already excited about one of the stories, a first paragraph to which I've read. So -- more later.