The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps - Jud Dolphin

Friday, July 24

Aphorisms, Trains, and The Vice President

What aphorism would you use? Better late than never. No pain – No gain. Every break through starts with a break down. My Peace Corps friend, Fran, says this is a silver lining story. You be the judge.

The Peace Corps calls, “Would you be available to come to Kiev and meet with Vice President Bidden? The Vice President wants to meet with Embassy staff and Peace Corps Volunteers during his visit.”

I jump at the chance, although in the back of my mind I know there are hurdles. Up until now, I traveled with the Peace Corps arranging details. All I had to do was show up on time. Now I am on my own.

Well, not exactly. I call Annya and ask if she can meet me at the Vakzal (train station). She helps me figure out the massive timetable that spreads floor to ceiling across the entire side wall. It would be intimidating in English. It's in Russian.

Next morning with ticket in hand, I arrive at the Vakzal about 40 minutes early. When I ask the information attendant what platform for my train, I am told it has not been assigned yet or at least I think I am being told this. I wait and ask again. Still no answer. Time is growing short and my anxiety is increasing.

Outside, I see a train across the way. Action seems better than waiting so I hike to end of the platform and around to the cross-over. “Is this the train to Kiev,” I ask a man? He does not know. A glance at my watch shows only 6 more minutes to departure time. I feel the churning of anxiety inside. What to do?

Just then the man yells in Russian, “Platform one. Platform one!!” I don't have time to celebrate understanding what he said. Across the way, a train has just pulled in. I am not so good at running with my artificial hip, but let's say I am walking very quickly all the way around to get back to track one. The heart is pumping real good. Yikes, I just make it. I did not know it then, but this incident was a sign of things to come.

I travel on an Electrechka instead of a regular train because it is much less expensive. Of course, the Electrechka is crowded with people sitting on benches three across that line each side of the car. It's the way ordinary people travel.

Arrival in Kiev was on a platform away from the Main Terminal. I memorized the location so that I could get there on my return. I'm thinking this is a very smart thing to do – right?

I walk up a long flight of stairs to the Kiev Vakzal area. It's a crazy mass of vendors, cars, trucks, buses, carts, and so many people scattering in all directions at once, like a disturbed ant hill. Is there really order in what seems to be chaos? The contrast to laid back tranquil Konotop gives me culture shock. I feel engulfed.

With the help of a few other Peace Corps Volunteers that I meet at headquarters, I get to my hotel. Strangely, I notice my overnight briefcase is partially unzipped. Either it spontaneously opened or I was pick-pocketed in the Metro. My shave kit is missing. Even when you are careful, it may not be enough.

The next day the Vice President comes on schedule. A room of about 200 Embassy staff and Peace Corps volunteers greet him. He takes a few questions. We are able to ask about health care reform in the US. He says that despite the rumblings in the Senate, he expects passage. He says that this time many forces are coming together knowing that change needs to be made. After speaking, he thanks us for our work on behalf of the USA and shakes many hands. I feel proud to be in Ukraine on behalf of my Country.

The rest of the day I spend with a group of younger volunteers. “Let' just hang out,” they say. None of us has eaten breakfast and it is nearly 12:30 pm so we set out to find an Indian restaurant. Ukrainian food is not spicy and we all are thinking cumin and curry!
Unfortunately we do not find it. Later we discover that if we had walked one block more, we would have stumbled right into it. Mmmmm – lesson learned?

Instead we discover a delightful Ukrainian outdoor cafe tucked away from the busy street. The food is fresh and the atmosphere is ever so pleasant. We “hang out” over lunch for a long time. All of us have stories to share and everyone seems happy with their site placement.
One fellow says that he was thinking of staying over another night, but now he wants to get back to his village. “Sounds silly,” he says. “But I miss the kids and people.” We all smile. We know how he feels.

I pick up a few things at the Peace Corps office and scurry up to the Kiev Vakzal. I have about 30 minutes before the Electrechka leaves for Konotop. Remembering where the remote tracks are, I climb down the stairs to the platform. “No people. Am I too early again?” I think.

I notice people far away on the opposite track. I am thinking, savvy traveler that I am, “I came up on this side and maybe I must go back on the other. So I trudge up the stairs in search of a way to the other platform. There is no obvious way. I ask several people in my best (though not very good) Russian. I get sent here and there, but still cannot find stairs down.

Panic churns inside again. Time is running out. I ask another man. He points down the way and fortunately mentions “Green” umbrellas. I understand the word green and see green patio umbrellas surrounding a building. Immediately I rush in that direction. I find the stairs. Hooray!

But as you may already suspect, while I found the platform, I missed my Electrechka. Suddenly I feel sad like a kid who is lost in a crowd. Now what?

I feel depleted. I call my Regional Manager and she coaches me in securing another ticket on a regular train – one that is going to Moscow, but through Konotop. Thank you!

As I rumble along, I am thinking, “Well I will always know where and how to get the Electrechka. I know where the Indian restaurant is located. And I have a greater confidence, that even when I don't know what to do next, I am resourceful enough to figure something out. Mistakes will be made, but then again lessons learned” Fran says, “That's the silver lining.” I have to agree, but why must there be a break down before there is a break through. No pain - No gain! Ugh!

No comments:

Post a Comment