Flashback: Waking up to our new tenancy

News flash:  The Oscar fish (ribka) should be gone tomorrow! Hallelujah!

Will I miss hearing the steady hum or the aerator all night? Seeing the otherworldly light coming from the kitchen and hearing the nerve-wracking banging from the aquarium lid as they try to jump out? Seeing five pairs of orange bulging eyes follow me all day, displays of aggression as the two bigger ones gape at the three smaller ones to scare them off, or as they drive them down to the bottom of the aquarium so that they play dead, or as they rip each other’s scales off with the sharp hornish thing on their lower lips?  No! I will not miss them in any way!

However, I may miss the cute little black sharkish sucker creature who cleans the aquarium glass and hides in the conch shell when the Oscars aren’t looking. (Maybe I would have called him Felix if he were staying any longer.)

Not that I will believe it until I see it.  Nor will I enjoy cleaning everything after the fishy water has been drained over and onto all the kitchen and bathroom surfaces.  The worst thing about losing them will be the cleaning. And that will be no small matter. It will make a big difference if the washing machine is fixed by the time they go, as promised.

Today is a big religious holiday her, so with that in mind, I hope that all the Holy Water that has been expended in my direction in the past couple of weeks will save me through Friday. And if the fish are still here then… fish fry at our house!

Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011:  First morning in the new apartment

We need to get a clock radio.

Adam wants to be second in the shower. Adam eats grits (imported – i.e. we brought them) and some poppy-seed roll. Zachary showers for ages and ages (typical) and finally gets out when Adam protests. Loudly. I make him some hot chocolate, and he reluctantly eats some meusli on yogurt. (Hmm. Sounds good for right now, actually.) He dresses and goes to the bathroom. By the time he gets out, he is late. But off he goes with Bill.

At school, Bill tries to collar Pani Jaroslava to get both kids a class schedule; neither boy has his own yet. Each seems to follow whomever helps him infrom that class to his or her next class, regardless of whether or not it is in English — taking the classes offered in English is the plan. (I understand Zachary is spending his time in Ukrainian Literature class drawing.  He’s not supposed to be in Ukrainian Literature.)  Zachary took Italian today (which he liked, even though he is supposed to be elsewhere) and Adam took German (which he liked, too.) Zachary had art today and needs to buy a large sketch book; he has not had gym yet, because it is offered early and he doesn’t get to school early enough. The class that we would call “gym” meets in the “strength room.”  Come to think of it, I should find out what it’s called; “gymnasium” in Ukrainian means “high school,” so what is the word for “gym?” Neither Adam nor Zachary knows where to get textbooks. I think we decided they wouldn’t buy textbooks until they decided which classes they would stay in.

Meanwhile, back in the apartment, I am feeling exhausted. Bill cleaned the kitchen while I slept. Then we went to the mall and bought stuff for the house. I returned the crib-sized mattress pads I bought by mistake and bought the correct size. We bought cooking utensils (one pot and one pan) and hangers. (We have to get children’s hangers for the kids, since their armoire is too narrow for adult hangers.) I bought cute little bedside lamps (Paris! London! New York!) for $4 to put on chairs-qua-nightstands beside the beds, and I bought a desk lamp. (I packed the desk lamp into a small box I found under the display. The clerk in charge of the department noticed. “No, No, No,” she said. “This is for a red lamp.” I thought she was made I had a box for the wrong color. She found the right box for me. She showed me I had packed my cheaper lamp into the box for a more expensive one. She didn’t want me paying the more expensive price. Nice lady. )

Bill found bulk peanuts! They’re very fresh! (Now the whole cupboard smells like peanuts.)

Oksana called to see if we could be home for the carpenter at 4 p.m instead of 5 p.m. So we hurried to the cashier. Bill found hand soap on the way. The cashiers have been consistently good-natured, even though we are behaving so stupidly.  This cashier opened the little lamp to make sure the right lamp was in the right box, again. We packed everything into the two big neon green shopping bags and my carpetbag. We hopped on the bus at 2 p.m. Bill got off at Stryski market to walk over to get Zachary. He took one big bag. I got off at the Shevshesky monument and walked home with the rest, which was quite do-able. I made it in time to open the door to the carpenters.

At the top of the stairs to our apartment, a lady in her 50s or so was coming out of the middle door, apartment 5A. She introduced herself as our neighbor Galina, and seemed very, very happy to meet me. (So happy, it makes me wonder if the internet guys were nice neighbors…) She held my bags while I tried to open our three door locks. I succeeded! After she handed back my bags, Galina assured me, in words and performance, that if I needed anything just to knock and she would be right over. I can hardly wait until we start our Ukrainian lessons (in October) so I can carry on some kind of conversation with her.

Bill waited outside the school for the kids. He saw Adam taking leave of classmates, shaking the boys’ hands and kissing all the girls. Adam won’t admit all that European behavior, but Bill brought photo evidence.

Zachary was so hungry after school, he asked to stop for a cheeseburger. He has not figured out how and when to eat at school. (I think the kids he & Adam are following leave them in the hands of different kids when they go to lunch.)

I unpacked my purchases and made my bed with my new mattress pad. Then I tested it. The pad doesn’t help. Bill says he thinks the mattresses are essentially bedsprings and agrees with me that these beds might be children’s beds, although I think they are the same size as the ones we slept on in the university residence in St. Petersburg, Russia, judging by how much Bill’s feet would hang off the end if there were no footboard. Our landlady put new ticking on each mattress, but while the fabric makes them look new, it doesn’t make them any more comfortable. Hard with lumps. I am considering finding foam.

The carpenters came at 4 p.m. and put good hinges on the kids’ armoire and an additional shelf in the front hall cupboard for our shoes. Pani L. came by to supervise. Bill noted that the fish owner should clean the tank if he wanted to save the fish, who now seemed to be suffocating and hanging out in the bubbles at the back corner of the aquarium to breathe. She called the offending pet owner, and then she was gone–only to return later with the balcony guys. That meant we could not go out to dinner as we planned, so Zac and I went to the market to buy something to cook at home. I found spaghetti sauce, tomato paste and penne but no spices or herbs. So I bought an onion and a tomato/pepper chutney and hoped for the best. Zac snuck a chocolate bar into the bag. I had just enough money to cover the groceries. I have to go to the bank.

When we got home about 5 p.m., as we climbed the stairs we could see men up in the window that opens on to our balcony. They were putting a security grill in that window opening. I am happy about that. They are going to glaze the broken panes as well.  That answers my question about what we were going to do about that window in the winter. These were the balcony guys or “meisters,” as Pani L. called them. They buzzed and drilled and whirred until 9 p.m. shoring up the balcony and its accoutrements. Pani nibbled on some bread and crackers while she supervised. She told us that the owner of the “ribka,” would be here to clean the tank after 6 p.m. We had to get dinner going. Amid the clothes and tools of the meisters on a kitchen chair, and Zachary’s school work on the table, Adam chopped an onion and started to fry it, while I put the water on to boil and opened the sauces to see and smell and taste what we had.

Meanwhile the fish guy got here about a 1/2-hour earlier than expected. He set to work. He complained to Bill that he wouldn’t have had to come to clean the tank if we hadn’t been feeding the fish. They only need 10 bits of food every 5 days. Who knew? The fish turn out to be aggressive cousins of piranhas called Oscars. They seem to attack the front of the aquarium whenever you walk I the room, but that’s just their nature, apparently. They didn’t seem so aggressive when they were well fed, but I couldn’t have told the fish guy that if I had wanted to. Not that I wanted to learn any more about the fish than I have learned already. I figure if that guy wants someone to take care of his fish, he should do it!

The next time I walked in the kitchen, the fish guy had moved all of his buckets and accessories from the floor to the kitchen counter, and had attached a hose from the tank, across the counter, the stove and the clean-dish rack to the sink. He was emptying the tank water into the kitchen sink. The bathroom sink and the tub would not escape fishy water either before it was all over. Pani took one look at my face and laughed in her nice way and said everything would be better tomorrow. She was right. Today wasn’t any good. There was just too much going on for me.

I went into my room, shut the door, lay down on the bed, and gave myself a time out. Later, Zachary came to tell me that Adam wanted me in the kitchen. The meisters were finishing up on the balcony. They went in to the bathroom to wash their hands and now the bathroom rugs are black. They left a bag of materials in the middle hall to use when they return tomorrow to finish. One hour more, they say. The good news is, of course, that I’m glad they have spent so much time on the balcony. I guess we would have collapsed into the courtyard, otherwise. And now, with all the supports they have installed, we have a place to hand a clothes line!

Adam made a nice spaghetti sauce. We all had a nice dinner, and I cleaned up the kitchen. By the way, the fish look very happy.



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2 responses to “Flashback: Waking up to our new tenancy

  1. Oh my gosh Leanne, I literally laughed out loud at your “time out”. I definitely know the feeling! I’m so glad you’re sharing this experience with us. I’ve often thought about living abroad for a year… just taking Braden and going… It’s alot of work and stress, but in the long run I’m sure it will definitely be the experience of a lifetime. You guys will be old pros in no time!

  2. John Beam

    There is an easy way to take care of the fish….
    One flush and your problems can be over.

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