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

Monday, September 7

Chutes and Ladders

As a kid, I enjoyed the game Chutes and Ladders. I would play it for hours with childhood friends - Eddie Lutz, Bobby Healy or Connie Sue McLaughlin. With a simple throw of the dice, you could climb a ladder to higher levels or just as easily fall down a chute. In the middle of this board game was a giant ladder as well as a giant chute. Elation or dread awaited the throw of the dice.

Last week was a Chutes and Ladder week for me. It begins with a call to Luda, the woman who was my host during training. "I was thinking of visiting Chernigov if it is convenient," I say. Immediately she says, "Da, Da!," and I can hear the warmth and welcome in her voice.

All I have to do is buy a bus ticket.

My bus to Chernigov.

Throw the dice. I take time to write out a bus ticket script in my best Russian. I ask a Ukrainian friend to check out the wording and a few adjustments are made. She offers to go with me. "No, that won't be necessary," I boldly say. "I have to learn how to do this on my own." She smiles sweetly and says tentatively, "Okay."

Throw the dice. I am off to the Autobus Vokzal (bus station). With script in hand, I approach the woman behind the counter. It's enclosed in thick glass. Only a small slot with a revolving turn table is open between us. It's used for exchanging money for tickets. It feels a little intimidating. I bend down to speak through the hole.

"I am sorry. My Russian is only so so. But I would like to buy a ticket to Chernigov on Friday. What is the schedule on Friday? And I want a return ticket on Sunday. What is the schedule on Sunday?"

I know I did a very good job with my script. Now the ticket lady is suppose to tell me the schedule. I am even prepared with Russian words requesting that she writes down the schedule.

But then totally unplanned, the ticket lady goes off script.

Throw the dice. In rapid Russian she blurts out an unscripted response. I have no idea what she is saying. I ask in my best Russian for her to please repeat. The response gets louder. I still have no idea. A line is forming behind me - one, two customers and then three and four. I decide to step aside and collect my thoughts. Down the chute I go.

Maybe it's my quiet persistence, but the ticket lady smiles and jesters that she will make a call. I have no idea who she is calling, but I am grateful for the extra effort. Up a little ladder I go.

After some giggling and making a few notations on paper and selling a few more tickets to Ukrainian travelers, she says in her best English, "No ticket. Buy ticket Friday." She is trying to help, but I am confused. Why can't I get a ticket now? What is the schedule and what about my return? I never have such problems in America. UGH!

I leave the Auto Vakzal discouraged. Wild fantasies of being trapped in Konotop swirled through my mind. I have hit the giant chute and feel like I am starting all over. I buy a big chocolate bar with nuts and go home.

The next day with my Ukrainian friend, I go back to the Auto Vakzal. I smile at the ticket lady. She rememberrs me. of course, and smiles back. I feel disappointed that I could not get a ticket by myself. My ego feels wounded. But then in the midst of my self pity I get a big surprise. My Ukrainian friend tells me that because this bus does not originate in Konotop, tickets can only be bought day of travel.

Why? I am not sure. It's just the way they do it. Ukrainian schedules do not necessarily follow American practices. I think to myself, "How easy it is to forget that I am in a different culture and place. I have gotten use to Konotop and just assume it will be like America in the 100s of ways that I take for granted."

But then I am reminded, Ukrainians just do things differently. Of course!

Roll the dice. I leave the Auto Vakzal with no ticket, but I am feeling better. Eventhough the ticket lady had gone off script, I still was able to find out some information.

I love my Ukrainian family - Luda and her son, Andre.

On Friday, I go to Chernigov. I buy the ticket easily and get a return one with no problems. My Ukrainian friend text messages me to make sure I am okay. I am!

I have a wonderful time in Chernigov. My host family says that my Russian is improving. I beam. We even have a few conversations. They are not exactly college level, but then agian I think it's not baby talk either. It's up that big ladder I go to a new level. Throw the dice! Let's play.


  1. At least you know the number one rule, Jud: if things don't go your way, eat chocolate!

  2. yeah, I think it is the chocolate that got you through. It would me, anyhow.