Saturday, June 1, 2013

Soviet Slim Down: An Introduction

Weight, it’s something we don’t openly talk about how we struggle with it, in most of the world. After spending a year in Georgia, my views on food, fitness, and health were changed. We, fellow teachers, talked about it a lot, almost as much as our bathroom issues. I adopted an “I don’t give a shit about what you think,” attitude. I started doing things my way and on a budget. This is an introduction to my Soviet Slim Down that I started in Georgia and am now carrying on during my vacation in Ukraine and will conical from here on out.

It started off as a joke. I was sitting in a Georgian restaurant in February 2012 with a newly formed friend, enjoying our snow day of freedom from our students, laughing about how my host parents put me on a scale a few days earlier, shocked that I weighed a whopping 107kg (236lbs). He said that they had to use the industrial scale, that they used for making Cha Cha, because I would have broken a normal one. I had known this guy for all of three weeks, barley spoken to him, but here we sat, making fun of my predicament and eating habits. For some reason I was ok with him making fun of me, anyone else I would have burst into tears and told them to fuck off. Maybe it was because we were in Georgia and had to laugh at our lives or we would have lost our minds or maybe it was because I knew in my heart that early on in our friendship that he cared and this was his way of showing it. 
I’ve always been fat, not chubby, plump, slightly overweight, or any other nicety phrase you want to throw at me. Something clicked, hard, in Georgia during my time there. I would sit in the teachers room, watching my co-workers, not so much older than me take each others blood pressure, talk about medications for controllable health conditions that were the product of unhealthy eating, and sip coffee that was mostly sugar, thinking that something had to change. It was like a PSA for what you didn’t want your health to end up as that just played over and over. One day I drew a food pyramid on the chalk board and they all started laughing at me, the silly America who thought she was teaching them something they didn’t know. They knew alright, but didn’t care, just like millions of people in America alone. I continued to bitch for a few months about how this country was making me fat, until my outspoken friend told me to shut up and stop blaming my wealthy host family with their sweets and fried chicken and take some control and loose weight. If I couldn’t do it in a country like Georgia, where every kind of produce was coming into season, that cost next to nothing, and I only worked 15 hours a week, was I really expecting that I could do it in America? Because my friend, who I love dearly, is an asshole and I am stubborn, we formed a bet. I had to loose a kilo a week or he got my prized food bag, normally a Kit-Kat, pear soda and some other horrible food, that I would eat on my journey back to my village every weekend from Tbilisi. I didn’t care if I would have to give him this food, because it didn’t matter I could have bought it in my village anyways, I wanted to win and shove it in his face.

Me on my way home to my village with a kit-kat in one hand and a pear soda in the other (Georgia March 2012)

I explained to my host family that money was on the line for me to get skinny. They laid off force feeding me, my well meaning host mother even tried to get me up at 7am to do ‘sport’ with my host brother, and my family would come running when they would hear me dragging the scale out to monitor their American daughter’s progress. Everyone in the village knew what was going on, everyone. My weight was no longer a secret. People openly commented on my figure like I was a livestock animal they were getting ready for the fair. My friend regaled our friends at dinner in the city with my struggles, making them guess my weight. No one could believe that I was above 100kg (220lbs). The odd thing was that after a while I didn’t care that people knew what my weight was. It was a fact of life that I was fat. No matter what I wear it does not hide the fact that I am not a size 2. 
The talks with my weight out in the open, not backstabbing whispers, were more productive then the years I spent as an adolescent in Weight Watchers or trying some quick weight loss diet, which clearly didn’t work in the long run. After that spring, when I went back into western culture I put on weight again, and fast. After getting down to around 100kg (220lbs) I was back up to around the 107kg (236lbs) that I had started at. it was a mix of traveling a lot, eating food that I hadn’t eating in while (years in the case of Denmark), drinking, and generally not caring until it had caught up with me yet again. 
When I got back to the States that summer I had to buy new pants and I squeezed myself into a pair of size 16 jeans that had no right to be stretched that far and have me say that they “fit.” Six weeks later when I went home to Georgia I couldn’t even get them on.
Arriving in Georgia, I was going to be living on my own, in an apartment, for an extended period of time for the first time in my life. After paying my rent I only had about $135 to last me the month on food. I quickly discovered that almost all western brands of prepackaged food wasn’t an option and local produce was cheap. I gave up on any meat I would have to cook at home and almost all forms of dairy, to avoid explosive bathroom issues that semester. I couldn’t eat out of boredom anymore, because it wasn’t in the budget, but I never went hungry. I drank water, flavored with minimal amounts of my valuable Chrystal Light, to add variety, gone were the sugary drinks, again not in the budget. 
I got myself weighed on the street by old women, and their scales who would question if 103kg (227lbs) was really something to be proud about. I had women at a bazaar flat out tell me that they didn’t have pants big enough for me. The friend that I was with, another American, asked if I was ok emotionally after having all of them basically tell me that I was too fat. I said I was use to it. They didn’t need to be any less honest. I knew that I was the one who had to change, not them. I was the one who was screwing with my health, being stupid, and staying depressed because I had decided to eat a whole cake, not just a piece.
Every visit back home to my Georgian village to see my family that fall, I was greeted by them telling me that I was still getting skinny slowly, but surly. They had faith that their America could do it, even if they couldn’t. My host mum set my goal weight at 85kg (187.3lbs). She had no past background history on me, she hadn’t seen the struggles. She was blissfully unaware and thought that I had never thought about loosing weight before. There was something refreshing about this and her blind faith that I could do this. When I came back from a summer away, she blamed my weight gain on America.
When I left Georgia, I got myself weighed on the street by an old woman for the last time in December and I was back down to 100kg (220lbs) after an extremely inactive semester. When I landed back in the States food was over processed and I felt like a freak for complaining. I struggled with eating what my family ate and what I ate. Not a lot was matching up. My mother started calling me her vegan daughter, I still didn’t trust meat and dairy for the fear of toilet explosions. I again had to battle against that American stereotypes of weight and how it was talked about. A few weeks ago my boss spoke with me, right before I felt for Ukraine that when I got back from Georgia I was the “tiny,” the smallest he had ever seen me and then again I put a little back on, but slowly it was coming off again. He spoke honestly about my plans and goals, nothing was hushed. I talked numbers. I don’t know where I want to end up, because I can’t remember the last time I was ever this skinny. Yesterday I got myself weighed on the streets of Lviv by an old woman and I was at 90kg (198.5lbs). I got off the scale and went on my way to the market to buy some more produce and didn’t think much of it until this morning. My license that I have had since I was 18, that says 200lbs (90.7kg) is no longer a lie and for the first time has even come close to being true. I don’t want a medal or a party. I just want to keep going on with my journey, slowly chipping away enjoying throwing out old clothes, because they are too big. Most of all I can’t wait to see my friend from Georgia further down the road, healthier, and being able to say, “I told you I could do it, you ass!”

Breakdown of the numbers:
Fall 2009: 
February 2012: 107kg (236lbs)
June 2012: 100kg (220lbs)
August 2012: 108kg (238lbs)
December 2012: 100kg (220lbs)
May 2012: 90kg (198.5lbs)

February 2012: Barley squeezing into a size 18 in Gap
May 2012: Comfortably a size 14 in Gap 

Break down in photos:

January 2012 (Georgia)
June 2012 (Armenia)

November 2012 (Ukraine)

May 2013 (Ukraine)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Pro Tips for Surviving a Long Journey

I’m not sure how many of you kind folks reading this will be aware of any of my current travel adventures so I’ll fill you in. I left for Lviv, Ukraine on May 20th and will arrive back in the States on July 10th, unless there is some unforeseen delay, like the National Ballet of Ukraine offers me the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Nutcracker and I have to stay and train, or I get really drunk one night in Lviv and somehow wonder in Chernobyl and get attacked by a radio active bear. But as both of those are highly unlike as I would settle for no less then the Bolshoi Ballet company in Moscow  or the fact that I never drink we should have nothing to worry about, preventing me to make it back to the States. 
What I would like to talk about today is how I’m getting to Ukraine without loosing my mind and without loosing a bunch of cash. To get to Lviv I had to wake up at 1am Maine time (MET for short) on Monday May 20th, to be showered, make sure everything was packed, and make it to the airport in time for my 6am flight. My first flight would take me from Portland International Jetport, to JFK where I would arrive a little after 7am MET (Maine time, trying to keep it simple so you don’t have to do time zone math) My next flight from JFK to Moscow didn’t leave until 2:20pm MET. Upon flying into Moscow around midnight MET, I didn’t catch my next flight to Kiev, Ukraine for a few hours after that. When I got to Kiev it was 4am MET on Tuesday the 21st. I then had to wait around another 4 hours for my train to Lviv which won’t get me there until about 5:30pm MET. Over all about 36 hours of pure travel, in planes, trains, and automobiles, with a whole lot of time to kill. 
-Hydrate. I cannot emphasize this enough. A few days before your flight, especially if it’s a long one, up the water intake and cut back on everything else. Don’t drink the booze before or during a flight, I know it’s free sometimes, but seriously just go out to a bar when you get where ever you are going and find a man to buy you a free drink. You’ll feel so much better emotionally and physically with this strategy. Day of flight continue to drink stupid amounts of water. If you don’t want to pay for water in an airport, like myself, take an empty bottle with you through security and fill it up after. Try to say no to or at least limit soda and juice intake. The carbonation from soda can leave you bloated and the juice is a lot of sugar. I’ve also been told that you shouldn’t have caffein on flight days, but I’m not a doctor and I normally drink about three to five cups of coffee a day so for me cutting it out completely would leave a non-functioning me. Keep drinking water after you land, but make sure to check out the bathroom situation before hand. I once found myself trapped on an Italian train with no working bathrooms for 2 hours after downing 1.5 liters of water. I hated life. Drink water, you get the point.
Ukraine Train Toilet

-Food. Pack a food bag. This is the one thing you will never regret over packing. For this epic journey my bag consisted of three apples, three bananas, a sandwich bag of strawberry and another one of grapes, and another of raw almonds. I also somehow managed to get fresh almond butter through TSA. All very healthy foods, because I knew that airplane food isn’t that healthy (still ate some of it. They gave massive chunks of cheese and walnuts out as PART of a snack. Massive shout out to Transaero airlines and their food that exceeded my expectations!) Also while waiting in multiple airports or train stations, I didn’t want to have to pay to $2 for that, same banana I could have packed myself and a hungry me isn’t a happy me. Also ditch Burger King or some place like that before you fly. No one and I mean no one wants to get the shits on international flight with a limited amount of bathrooms and limited times you can use them. (Yes, I always think and talk about the bathrooms.)
My travel companion and our airport picnic

You can always pick up local food once you land.

-Sleep. Try to sleep at the time you would be on at your destination on travel day.  This can be tricky. I’m a big fan of popping a sleeping pill on the flight over the Atlantic and drooling all over myself and my newly aquatinted seat mate. Sometimes, even this isn’t fool proof. Mine knocked me out for about 2 hours and than I slept badly on and off after that. I’m going to blame it on the fact that we were flying far north, over Iceland, Norway, Sweden and such, so the sun never set for the whole trip.  Also, don’t beat yourself up over not concurring jet lag in the first day. I’m not a master. I will say that for the first part of your day, no matter how shitty you are feeling get a small americano into you and be exposed to natural light. If you don’t drink coffee, forget I said that. 

Coffee, the elixir of life!

Iceland, way later then the sun should be up

-Planing your journey in the best way for you. I could have spent another few hundred dollars and have flown directly to Lviv, but in my never ending quest to save money and my love of Ukrainian trains I chose not to. All my friends in Lviv think I am crazy for insisting on this path of travel, but thankfully my best friend has stopped fighting me on this, still thinks I’m crazy, but ended up booking probably the perfect ticket for me. He threw out the idea of the fast train, which limits luggage (I have way to much as always) and the fact that it doesn’t have beds. The beds are a key factor, as I will be traveling from 3:20pm Lviv time till a little after midnight. I needed the option to be able to lay down, and have been dozing on and off for the past 4 hours of my ride. He also smartly bumped me up to second class where I could get a cabin with a closing door, to block noise, a bottom bed and when he booked my ticket I was the only one staying in my room, so it’s been me sitting around in my leggings and a tank top, drooling on my pillow, and eating out of my food bag without anyone watching. This upgrade was only about $5 more and so worth it. I also have the potential to get some awesome cabin mates who will, most likely feed me if they ever appear.
-Staying fresh. On journeys like this it can be hard. My hair has turned into a grease ball, so I’ve given up on that front. I did pack an extra change of cloths in my carry on. From America to Moscow I had sport leggings on with a tank top, sweatshirt and sneakers. As soon as I hit Moscow I changed into a black maxi dress with a jean jacket, and nice flip flops. It was a new day, so time for a new outfit and one that was more socially expectable. You don’t go out looking like a slob in Europe. The key to the second outfit is something that looks more dressed up, but still feels like cozy clothes and are easy to move in. I also like to look like the local population as much as I can, which backfired and people kept speaking to me in Russian and Ukrainian and asking me for directions.  
-Keeping entertained. I travel with my laptop and iPhone, for electronics, both of which on long journeys will die, no matter how hard I try to charge them when I find an available outlet. I limit myself to just music and audiobooks on my iPhone. I know the audiobooks can sound a little nerdy, but I like to be able to close my eyes and listen to a story I either already know well or something that is easy to fallow. Most public libraries have e-libraries that you can download audio books and e-books for free for a set amount of time. Since my electronics always die I try to take one paperback (less weight than a hardcover) with me that isn’t too taxing to read. There is nothing worse then lacking sleep and trying to get through As I Lay Dying by Faulkner. My brain implodes and I want to cry because of how stupid I feel. Trash magazines are also a decent investment, especially if you can find a fellow traveler to swap with. 
The best possible entertainment source is to find someone to flirt with. Here is my logic, you are in transit, you will never have to see or talk to this person again if you really don’t want to. I lucked out, or my airline was trying to play match maker, on my flight from NYC to Moscow and ended up sitting next to a guy a few years older then me  and decently attractive looking. Our introduction was me telling him that he was in my window seat and to get up and move, now this could have made for an awkward flight, but I started small talk and by the end of the flight we were talking about things that I can’t write here because my parents read this blog. (E-mail me if you want to know the details.)
Even better then finding someone to flirt with is when they find you. When I was transferring terminals in JFK, dragging my 2 fifty pound suitcases and a guy commented on how much I had with me. He continued to tell me about his work and how he traveled every week. We got on to the topic of iphones and how they make life so easy and I admitted that I will hate to go without it in Ukraine and as we parted ways, he handed me his card and told me to e-mail him about my travels if I ever found wifi. Sneaky, sneaky man, but admire his delivery. A for effort! He may get a consolation e-mail.
I think I’ve covered all the bases, but feel free to add your own tips on how not to die on massively long journeys. I am going to drool more on my train pillow and hope for the best! 


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

One Year...

A year. That is how long I have called Georgia home, and in a week it will all be over. One part of my life, that is so uniquely mine and forever will be mine. Bits and pieces will be told, but the whole story will never be heard by one person, and it’s not intended to. 
None of this would have ever been possible without my family, my Georgian family, Tamariani, and all my friend scattered around the world, esp. those who took me in, fed, and entertained me. Without all of you I would forever be the child sitting alone, in a corner with a balloon tied to her wrist. 
Ok, so maybe I was that child the other weekend...

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for helping me have the most amazing year of my life, even if I just met you for a brief moment. I have nothing but radiating love for all of you!


New Years Eve (Lviv, Ukraine)

Christmas (Lviv, Ukraine)

My first Georgian dance (Mid- January 2012 Tamariani, Georgia)

My first Georgian drinking horn (Early February 2012, Lagodekhi, Georgia)

My host dad's birthday supra with Simon, my Georgian husband, if I would only say yes. (March 7th, 2012 Tamariani Georgia)

Azerbaijan Border with J. (Late March 2012 Lagodekhi, Georgia)

Armenia (mid-June 2012)

Volunteering as Roskilde Music Festival (Roskilde Denmark, Late June/ early July 2012)
Mumford and Sons with my sister cousin (August 4, 2012, Portland, Maine)
Sam thought it would be funny to get me wasted on my birthday. Enjoy this picture Sam. (September 28th, 2012 Tbilisi, Georgia)

Davit Gareja Monastary (Early October 2012, Georgia)
Thanksgiving 2012 (Lviv, Ukraine)

Monday, December 3, 2012

It's Turkey Lurkey Time!... Almost.

Traveling long distances is as much apart of Thanksgiving for a lot of people, as turkey, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, and football. The longest I ever was in a car to see family was an hour tops. This year took a little bit more time, involved multiple modes of transportation, and my cunning.
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving I impatiently taught, until 12:20 and raced out of school to my apartment to finish packing, change my clothes and then set off from Tbilisi, Georgia to Lviv, Ukraine. I road a public bus, where people tsked my big backpacking backpack to Station Square where I found a marshookah (a van that holds about 15 people) that could take me to Kutaisi. The guy collecting money was very impressed that I could speak Georgian, blushing I told him I could only a little bit and that I was an English teacher here. He sat me next to an older woman who seemed a little unsure about having her seat mate be this odd American in her sports clothes. I was jonesing to leave, but a debate started about a flower arrangement that woman didn’t want to hold for the whole trip and the guy collecting money said that she would have to pay for another seat if she wanted to take up a seat with it. Her excuse was that there was no one sitting there anyway so she shouldn’t have to pay. This debate raged for a good ten minutes. I kept saying, ‘Oh my God’ under my breath in Georgian and the woman next to me exchanged looks with me that we were under mutual agreement that this vehicle needed to move pronto.
We drove for four and a half hours, with one stop, picturesque Soviet towns, and lots of muttering from the woman next to me, until we reached Kutaisi. I had no idea where the airport was and when the driver told us that, this was the Kutaisi stop, two girls in Russian said that they were looking for the airport. I asked a Georgian girl who was sitting near me, who spoke English, what exactly they had said about the airport and she said that they were going and I told her that I needed to too. We left the city and drove through farm land, it was dusk and we seemed to be driving far past where I thought the airport should be. The Georgian girl told me that we would be there in a few minutes and I relaxed a little. The woman sitting next to me helped me into my coat. I’m  sure she just was worried I was going to accidentally smack her in the face, trying to get my arm in the sleeve. 
Low and behold we did reach the newly constructed airport, and by newly constructed I mean still being built. I was there three hours before my flight and there was no wi-fi, shops, or outlets to charge my laptop that was at 63% battery power, so I crossed watching the Hunger Games, again, off the to do list again. That left me with eating, calling people, and watching Georgians check in and go threw security. 
I, myself had to get checked in and pray to God that they would except my backpack as a carry on. I got one checked bag for free, but my plane would land a little after 10pm in Kiev and I would have an hour to go through passport control, get my bag, get to the train station, get my ticket that I had bought online, and find my train and get on it. I needed this bag not to be checked so I could make it, otherwise the chances of me pulling this off looked dismal and would also mean I would be stuck in Kiev for the night. Upon check in, they informed me that it would have to be checked. I tried to explain my situation and they told me that I would have my bag shortly after we landed and not to worry. I reluctantly gave it to them, after they interrogated me about the liquid contents of it. 
Do you have liquids in your bag?
Yes, I just told you that I did and that they were small, like lipgloss small.
So you have no more then five liters of liquid in your bag?
I was super confused as to why they were so concerned with my capacity in my bag. I travel a lot, and not even the TSA agents have cared. Hell, I’ve gotten a small bottle of hand sanatizer, through multiple international airport securities, not in it’s plastic bag. Tbilisi airport let me bring 200 milliliters of vodka in my carryon once and now I was getting shit in a half built airport in the middle of no where about liquids? (I also saw an hour later someone get approval for two full size bottles of Georgian wine to be brought on the plane. I guess I was just carrying the wrong liquids, because they weren’t Georgian.) The woman who was checking me in also called over her supervisor when she saw I was traveling on an American passport. With the airport only being open for about two months, about 3 flights a day, I’m willing to bet I could have been one of the first Americans traveling through. The supervisor asked me where my visa for Ukraine was, when she couldn’t find one. I politely stated that I’m American and don’t need one. I also explained that it was my fifth time going, so I was probably right. 
I stood in line waiting to go through security, passing the time playing with an obese baby. The woman checking everyone’s tickets and passports looked at them a little longer then I thought necessary and I chalked it up to her wanting to do a good job, as she had probably only had it for a few months. After security, I almost went past passport control, as it was these random cubes in the middle of the floor with people sitting inside of them and no sign or anything. I handed my passport over to a girl who looked like she was eighteen and asked me how I was, after a much too long pause after the hello’s. Sure she had practiced this in her Border Control English 101. 
I went and took a seat after this and called some of my friends to pass the time and just people watched. I eventually got bored with that and decided that I should use the bathroom, before I got on my plane. The fact that there was even a bathroom in this half done airport was a miracle, even if it didn’t have soap or toilet paper. Lucky for me, after living in Georgia for almost a year, I just bring my own. The last thing you want is explosive diarrhea, courtesy of Georgia, and no toilet paper.
"King David The Builder" I guess they are trying to keep with the theme.

This is were you wait to get on your plane. 
Maybe one day there will be shops and a restaurant? 

When it was time to bored the plane we were separated into two groups, after the people who paid to reserve their tickets got on, so like 10 people. Wizz Air, a budget European Airline, think South West, loads it’s passengers from the front and the back to speed up the process. I stood impatiently, not caring which seat I got, as long as I got one and made my train. I got to go in through the front of the plane and the airline attendants told me, in English, you could start picking your seat from the third row. The plane was filling up and there was only one girl sitting in the third row. They didn’t have the ‘reserved’ head rest sign on it. I went for it, praying that the other flyers on the plane didn’t understand that I we could sit in the third row, not after. I’m going to assume that this was the case, because no one told me to move. This old man, with his wife and daughter sat across the isle from me. The fight attendants gave the safety information in Russian and then they started giving it in English. The old man started speaking to me in Georgian, laughing and saying something along the lines of, why are they speaking English? No one on this flight speaks it! People who speak English fly in planes out of Tbilisi, not Kutasi! I laughed at this point. Partly because I agreed, I mean really, this airport was a shit show, and partly because he thought I was Georgian. 
The flight was a quick and painless two hours that I spent praying to God that I wouldn’t miss my train and listening to the Hunger Games on audio book to take my mind off missing my train, which didn’t really help, because I was listening to book two, where they are on a train touring Panem for the first bit.
The plane landed safely at Kiev Zhulyany International airport and we were loaded on two buses to take us from the tarmac to the airport door. I stood on the bus looking at some lady’s nails, that were shaped like claws, eyeing the other bus. They got to the doors first. By the time I got in line for passport control there were 15 people in front of me. I stood there watching and calculating the time it would take for it to be my turn and looked at my watch. I started muttering to myself that I would never make it. I then gave myself a mental slap and told myself to grow some balls. I tapped on the shoulder of the couple in front of me and explained that I had to get to a train in 40 minuets and asked if I could go ahead of them. They said yes. I asked the next guy if he spoke English, and he didn’t. I morally couldn’t just cut him, but the couple behind me asked me to explain again what I needed. The man took me to the front of the line and explained to everyone in Russian what I was doing. It didn’t look like anyone could have cared either way.
When I went up to the window I gave the woman my passport and said, “Privet!” She looked a little startled, but flipped through my passport, stamped it and handed it back. I said, “spasibo!” and rushed off to the baggage clam before she had a chance to change her mind about letting me into Ukraine. I not so patently scanned the carousel for my bag. it was no where to be seen, so I went out to where they were coming out and tried to look through the black things, to see if I could see my bag. People weren’t taking bags off the carousel, so they the guys in the back couldn’t easily put more on. I thought of throwing them on ground, in an attempt to get mine sooner, but didn’t want to act too crazy. I also thought about just climbing to the other side and getting my bag off the luggage cart myself and was just about to put this plan into action when they put in on the carousel. I grabbed it and ran to the nearest ATM and got money out and ran outside to the taxi stand. I told the person in charge of it that I needed to get to the central station as soon as possible and he pointed me at a taxi and shouted to the driver where we needed to go.
I explained to him, by doing what was probably the most insane looking motions ever that I needed to get to the train station NOW. He took that to mean that we were filming The Fast and the Furious: Kiev, driving at 130km/h (80mph) through the city. He honked and dodged cars trying to get me there. I crossed myself when we passed a church, just like the good little Georgian Orthodox Christian I have become, also because I needed as much help as I could get from God to make this train. I crossed myself seeing a second church, and then thought, wait, wait I’ve seen this church before, and I’ve only been in Kiev once before, and that was to get a train! I had made it to the train station 20 minuets before it was suppose to leave. I wanted to kiss my taxi driver, instead I stuffed an extra 30UAH ($3.50) in his hand and ran off to the ticket counter.
No, I had not been dumb enough to not buy my ticket before hand, but I still had to go to a window and get in printed. I stood in line at one of them, knowing that the lines can be painfully long, looking around in exasperation and saw a window that said, “online reservations” and there was only one person standing in line. Convinced that God truly loved me at this point in time, I went over and waited until it was my turn where I gave the lady, my iPod with the e-mail of the reservation on the screen and she printed out my ticket. I was so happy I didn’t have try to speak to her and I got what I wanted. I walked quickly down the hall, to my platform and found my train car. I gave my ticket to the man outside who asked me something in Russian and I stared blankly at him, so he just waved me in. (I later found out he wanted my ID, but the chances of me stealing another foreigners ticket were probably so small, that he didn’t care. After all I only paid $8 for it. That’s right, an overnight train ride, with a bed was only $8! Слава Україні!) 
I found my bed in the open compartment, which seemed to be filled mostly with university students and looked to see that I had about 10 minuets before the train left. I threw my backpack under a seat, not caring if someone wanted to steal my worn clothes and lipgloss from it, as they would be doing me a favor at this point, and went outside to buy water from a kiosk.
I went up to the window and stopped to think what the word for water was in Ukrainian, thinking it was ‘wasser,’ I asked for it. The woman looked at me like I was crazy. Wrong language I guess. I then tried explaining myself and asking again, this time in Georgian. Know what, Georgian is as useless to know in Ukraine as it is in America. She looked really confused at this point and maybe a little annoyed. I walked away thinking maybe she just didn’t have water, so I circled around the building and found a whole window full of water. I went back to the woman, still speaking to her in Georgian, rather then being a mute, and tapped to the window that had the water in it.  She stuck her head out of a little door, to see what I was going on about and gave me a bottle. I paid her, and as an after thought I asked “gas?” “Da, gas.” “Nyet, gas.” I said sheepishly, trying to act sweet. She traded out the bottles for me and I went back to the train to get settled, glowing in my glory of making it and getting water, even though I made an ass out of myself speaking Georgian.
I made my bed, which was a top bunk on the isle, at the end of the train and stripped down to my tank top and leggings and climbed into bed. My friend hadn’t added money to my Ukrainian SIM card yet, so I had no way of being able to tell him that I had arrived safely. (I also still don’t know my number after having it for a year, so there is no possible way I could add money to it myself.) I put my headphones in and put Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Home on and started to drift off to sleep, when my phone went off. My friend was naturally amazing that I had actually made the train. I suspect, he had friends on stand by waiting to take me in for the night in Kiev, if this was the case. He clearly forgot who he was dealing with. 
After I got off the phone with my friend, I passed out, despite people walking up and down the corridor and the train stopping at different stations in the night, until the next morning when I woke up in a pile of enough drool, that I’m surprised that I didn’t drown in the night. I got up, got dressed, tidied everything up and tried to use the bathroom. It was flooded and in poor condition, I thanked God that I had been smart enough to purposely keep myself dehydrated and out of this situation. I went and sat down across from a Ukrainian women, with too much makeup on and felt like a bum. I looked out the window at the little villages going passed, none of them really looked familiar. The train moved gradually into a city, not being sure if it was Lviv or someplace else, as things are more apt to be late in Ukraine, I had my face pressed to the window looking for something that looked familiar. When I knew it was Lviv and raced to put my backpack on go to the door of the train. I resisted the urge to knock the train porter over in an attempt to get out first. When I got out onto the platform I found my best friend after looking for a few moments and we threw out arms around each other and I yelled HAPPY THANKSGIVING, and everyone just looked at us. I just shrugged. I didn’t care. I had made it home for Thanksgiving with my best friend, who would have to fill in for the rest of my family thousands of miles away. We didn’t have turkey or pie that day. There was no football. No strategies for shopping at midnight, just two best friends catching up, being thankful that we could be together.
Thank goodness for best friends who feel the need to take your picture, just after you've got to town!

Home by Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Roskilde Music Festival 2012

My parents never sent me away to sleep away camp during the summer when I was growing up. I am sure if you asked them they would say that they were looking out for my best interests and my mother claims that only parents who don’t love their children send them away. At the age of twenty-three I finally broke free and got to go to summer camp! Well sort of. I volunteered at the Roskilde Music Festival in Denmark for two glorious weeks at the end of June and beginning of July. It was insanity at it’s best.
Most of you reading my blog will have no idea what Roskilde is, so here is a basic breakdown. It is the biggest music festival in norther Europe and over 100,000 people attend every year and it is almost entirely run by volunteers. There is an overwhelming feeling of community and caring for those around you, although when a drunk Danish teenage girl who was sitting next to me one night told me that she had just gone pee sitting down and I didn’t even notice, I wasn’t feeling so communal. Over 200 musical acts performed this year, so I quickly forgot about the peeing drunk.
I arrived to the festival grounds the morning of June 25, dragging my suitcase through the mud, feeling relief when I saw my Danish friend Nina, that I had met a year earlier when I was working at the Wiz-Art Short Film Festival. (She was the one who also scored me the job at Roskilde and I am forever grateful to her for it.) I was assigned to help build The Urban Zone at the festival. I did my best to work with power tools and not cut any appendages off my body, but it is safe to say that I was better at just painting things.

"Mhahaha someone gave me power tools!" Photo credit: Marianne Falck
Clearly I was having too much fun painting. Photo credit: Marianne Falck

 Our work days were from nine in the morning until close to ten at night, with long breaks for lunch and dinner. In exchange for work we got to sleep in little wagons with bunk beds, three meals a day, snacks, hot showers, free entry to the festival and most importantly five beers a day.

Working Hard

Break Time on the Plaits

Russian Graffiti Artist  
Russian Graffiti Artist Painting the Urban Zone

During the first week it safe to say that I gladly made an ass of myself in front other volunteers with my bicycle riding skills that normally meant I had to stand on something to mount a borrowed bike due to my short legs. (People took pictures of it. I told them it wasn’t my fault, we don’t ride bikes in America.)
Me looking slightly retarded, riding a bike in the rain. Photo credit: Nina Bischoff

 My teammates were slightly impressed with how much Danish culture I knew, but were horrified when I mentioned Nik and Jay and how much I love them. I regaled them with my stories of adventure, that involved Norwegians dressed as a penguin and crap super heros, like Robin and hippies that kissed me for no reason in front of the mess hall. This was all before the festival had even started.
Warm up was from July 1 through July 4, which featured Nordic bands. I went to a show by Copenhagen DJs on the third night that was at the skate park that we had at the festival. It was amazing to be surrounded by thousands of people dancing to the same music, there was an electric energy there that you couldn’t help be a part of.
One the first day of the festival The Cure was the headliner at the Orange stage and I was beyond excited. I went with some of my Danish friends and unfortunately they sounded great, but lacked enthusiasm, so I wondered off and did something else. The next day I had a slight break down about my hair and went into town to get it cut, as the last time I had more done to it then the sides shaved was when I was in Ukraine over winter break. I asked the lady cutting my hair to do something trendy and that wouldn’t be popular in the States. I then went and got dark brown hair dye and dyed it in one of the bathrooms in the festival, keeping check on the time to make sure that I didn’t miss Jack White.
New Hair.  Photo credit: Marianne Falck

 I again went with friends to see him and the whole time I danced and sang along, but when he started playing Seven Nation Army the fourteen year old inside of me died in sheer bliss. The Saturday night of the festival posed some massive scheduling conflicts with Bruce Springsteen and Bon Iver playing at the same time.  Bruce started first so I watched him and he became the new love of my life. I don’t care if he is older then my father. I ran over fifteen minuets before Bon Iver started playing and the arena that could hold over 17,000 people was over crowded with drunk and high pushing teenagers, so I gave up and went back to Bruce. I was not going to have my feelings on Bon Iver tainted. Sunday I decided it was to be a day of rest like any good Christian, just perhaps not in the way that most people think of it.
Ok so this photo was taken at an earlier time then that Sunday, but it looked similar. Photo credit: Marianne Falck

The Monday and Tuesday after consisted of us cleaning up, breaking down what we had built and goodbyes. Tuesday night we also had an end of festival gala for the volunteers. It was refreshing and odd to see everyone showered and in their genteel attire. Everyone was asking everyone else if they would see each other next year and when I was asked I just shrugged, smiled, and said, “who knows where in the world I’ll be next year.”
People Carting in Beer

Resting In Between Shows

Peeing Drunk Into A Trash Can


Feel Free To Be Who You Want To Be

I would like to sincerely thank everyone I worked with at Roskilde and for letting me be the token American on your team. It is an experience that I will never forget and I am sure I will see all of you again at another festival. Again a massive thank you to Nina!