Sep. 4, 2012
I left all my packing until the night before. I held all these high hopes of having everything done and nothing to worry about. I thought, just a nice, restful weekend before my trip. But as always, I spent the weekend throwing things frantically in suitcases and wiggling the zipper closed right at departure time. Never mind how many days in advance I started the packing process. I won’t tell you. A normal, relaxing weekend before my trip – well, it was a good theory.
I said goodbye to Mom at the airport amid many hugs and kisses, tea and an asiago bagel. And when it was time to go, I set my shoulders back, kept my chin up, and went. When you set out on a grand adventure, you know you won’t return the same.
25, single, bored of the same old scene, a thirst for adventure, and a pocketful of memories. I really had no idea what to expect.
Traveling went perfectly. All of the flights were on time, even early. I met nice and interesting people, had a couple of glasses of wine with a lady on the overseas flight, and consequently didn’t mind the random turbulence one bit.
Actually, it went something more like:
Me: *eep!* We’re all going to die!
Flight attendant: Can I get you something to drink, ma’am? Coke, juice, coffee…
Me: Red wine, PLEASE, GIVE ME WINE!!!
It was probably on the final flight, the one that took me into Kiev, that I thought, “What will I do if no one is there to meet me?” And then I told myself not to worry, that it would be fine. My friend would meet me at 6, and I promptly fell back asleep.
Sep. 5, 2012
The flight to Kiev was the first time I really felt like I was in foreign territory. The announcements were in English, of course, right after Ukrainian and Russian. But for some reason, the Russian was unintelligible to me. I’ve been studying for a year, I told myself severely, I should be better at this language thing! I wrote it off to stage-fright and lack of sleep. Truth is, when you learn Russian by watching movies made in Moscow, and then take a trip to Ukraine, the accent is not the same.
The flight attendants were young and smart in their blue and yellow uniforms, and very, very Ukrainian. Fortunately, I had plenty of leg room. I slept most of the flight.
When I saw Kiev from the air, I couldn’t really identify what I felt. Trepidation, a little anxiety, like when you meet a childhood pal as an adult and you’re not really sure if it will go well. I wasn’t even sure if I felt like I was coming home.
I had a moment of panic. What if my checked luggage didn’t make it? But it did. Customs was a breeze. They just waved me through. I didn’t even have to declare anything. I thought, Wow! That’s the most painless travel experience I have ever had!
And then I walked out of the airport.
At this point, the whole world went mad. Once I walked though the doors and out of the airport, I met Kiev, up close and personal. I had always been sheltered before. I knew this, but only in theory (like the idea of having a nice relaxing weekend before a month-long sojourn overseas). Welcome to the crazy.
It was 5 p.m. local time. I thought I had an hour to kill. Feeling a little alone, and very foreign, I proceeded to sit and wait and practice my people-watching skills. The minutes ticked by. One half hour. And the next. And then I began to wonder if anyone was coming. But I thought, “It’s Ukraine.” Maybe there was traffic; maybe she was running late. I’ll wait till 7. The unspoken thought being, THEN I will panic.
As 7 o’clock came and went, it became very apparent that no one was going to meet me at the airport. And I had no functional phone. Surely there was a pay phone somewhere. But I needed to do something fast. It was getting dark and chilly and I was only getting more exhausted. And Kiev was rapidly becoming scary.
I gathered my courage and scanned the crowd for anyone who looked friendly. Let me point out here that NO ONE looks friendly in Kiev. (In fact, later more than one friend would tell me, “You look too happy. Glare at people and look angry. Then you’ll really look Ukrainian.”)
I finally approached a blonde lady, young and pretty, hoping she would be nice. She had been sitting on a bench for a while, rebuffing taxi drivers and random guys. I stammered out something like, “Izvinitye.. Gde… yest’…telefon?” Excuse me, Where…is….telephone? Oh, it was bad Russian and I knew it too. It took all my guts to walk up to a stranger and speak awful Russian. But I was finally desperate enough.
She just blinked at me. Said, “Ukrainska?”
I was confused. “Nyet.”
“English? I speak English, you know.”
“Oh, thank God,” I blurted, and babbled out my story.
Before I knew it she had her phone out, and I was talking to my friend and unraveling what had happened. I thought someone would meet me at the airport; she thought we would meet at the apartment. I felt terrible for the miscommunication. The lady quickly and efficiently got Katya’s address, put me in a cab, and I was on my way before I realized that I didn’t even know my rescuer’s name, and hadn’t thanked her near enough. I saw her walking away like she had somewhere to be, while moments before she was just sitting on the bench.
I’ll never forget that encounter.