Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Amazing Race

We boarded the train at 5. I was curious about our roommates since we were only able to get the top 2 bunks in the 4 person compartment. Good news was that we only had one roommate. The bad news: He was Bellarussian, 300 lbs, and had the smell of something I never want to encounter again. Seriously, Vitaly scrunched up his face and opened the window without saying hello. We were joined by another passenger a few stops later. Since we had the top 2 bunks we did not have access to the table in between the bottom 2 bunks. No problem, when Vitaly ordered a few coffees he just made the new passenger get up off his bunk while we sat there and had our drinks. Smelly Bellarussian just slept the whole time while his belly hung out from his undershirt and sagged off the bed.

We arrived in Sumi at 2 a.m.. Lucky for us there was a room at the makeshift train hotel where we could rest and wait for morning. Unlucky for Vitaly there was only 1 bed. He is always making sure I am comfortable which is nice. He slept on the chair.

We were up and on the move at 8 a.m., arriving in the Sumi city office soon after because Vitaly was told we required authorization from Sumi offices to visit Lebedyn offices (a town in the Sumi district). All we got at the Sumi office was a blank stare and told that there was nothing they needed to do. OK, so onto Lebedyn and hope for the best?

We caught a taxi and showed him a map. He drove us the hour to Lebedyn. After talking with approx 10 pedestrians, and walking into a few different unmarked buildings, we finally located the office in question. We were actually met with a smile from the lone lady working in the office, a good sign of things to come, right? She gave us a few simple directions, go pay the small fee and go get a paper notarized, and she could update the birth records and issue a new birth certificate. Easy! So far so good. We left her office at 10 a.m.. We were both in good spirits. This was about the time I joked and said to Vitaly that it felt like we were participants in the amazing race. I should know better by now!

The first bank was closed and we could not pay the bill there. The notary was there. He took 1 look at the paper, smiled, and said I cannot notarize this without a tax id#. You need to go back to Sumi and apply for one. This is when Vitaly’s demeanor changed, he said let’s find another notary who will do this. We got back in the cab and found another bank where we could pay the bill. 1 out of 2 down. Now to just find another notary in this town. Easier said than done. Apparently there was another notary. His building was even harder to find then the city office but we finally found it at about 11. He actually spent more than a minute looking at the document. Unfortunately his answer was the same, we need a tax id #.

Vitaly decides that we can track down the local authority and apply for a tax id there. After 15 minutes of searching we arrive at the office. In applications the secretary shows a chart of how it takes 1 week to process a tax id #. At this point I get that sick feeling again. It was at this point that I crossed the line of tolerating Ukraine to understanding why people here are so unhopeful.

We get in the cab and drive the hour back to Sumi. We find another notary. Great news, she signs the documents and we are back on the road to Lebedyn at 1:00. An extra week avoided! I start to get the wind back in my sails and think we may even get the paperwork and make it back to Sumi for the 3:00 pm train back to Melitopol! Unfortunately I shared this with Vitaly and he set me straight – this is Ukraine.

We made it back to the office in plenty of time. The woman sat us down and said Vitaly, Zenon, you are the first to arrive. Just kidding. She actually said her grandparents used to live in Salt Lake City, and that they were famous. Half an hour later after we were finally issues the new birth certificate Vitaly said “ya sure your grandparents were famous. Just give me the paperwork”. It was really funny.

There was a bus station next to the office. Unfortunately no buses went from there to anywhere helpful. The new plan was to make it to Kharkov, a main “regional center” where the train options should be plenty. It was 3 pm so our kamikaze taxi driver floored it south to Akhtyrka. The drive was about an hour. Not joke, we pulled into the bus station just as a bus was leaving. Vitaly made it stop, asked where it was going, andthen grabbed me out of the cab and threw me on the bus.

The going was slow. Our plan the whole time, come hell or high water, was to make it back to Melitopol to apply for Ruslan’s tax id # on Thursday which we need to apply for the passport. There is a 1 day waiting for the tax id, and applying for the passport on Friday could say a lot of time especially since Monday is a holiday. The bus seemed to stop for every pothole and there were plenty of potholes. At this point it was 4:00 and all we had eaten all day was a bun early in the morning. Vitaly was tired and hungry and not in the best of moods. That is why the bus pulled over with an apparently mechanical failure Vitaly started complaining and pacing. Our slow bus had taken 2 hours to get us where we were, but not that close yet. “we need to do something” he said. I said “no problem. Let’s just walk down the road a little and ask a local to call a cab for us”. Again, Vitaly laughed and said “this is Ukraine, people don’t just call cabs for people”. With that he walked outside and flagged down the second car he waved at. I saw him talk with the driver andthen quickly start walking back to the bus. I knew it was on so I grabbed the bags and got ready to jump into my first ever hitchhike.

It was strange. There wasn’t much conversation. Actually it was dead silent and the driver drove like a maniac. Vitaly thought nothing of it. He was actually happy because we made it to the train station in about 30 minutes from there. He tipped the driver 50 grivna. I asked Vitaly if hitch hiking was normal here. He said sure.

So it’s just before 7 and we are at a major train station and everything will be fine, right? Sold out. Both trains leaving that night are sold out. ….but we were able to put our names in on the wait list for 3rd class. Luckily some beds opened up and we made it on the 11 pm train. Phew. With that we had a chance to grab a big Ukrainian dinner and relax for a bit.

3rd class turned out to be better than 2nd class. Although the smell was bad, and you are crammed into a train car sleeping amongst strangers, I was so tired that I fell asleep in no time. We made it back to Melitopol at 5 am. To this point it all proved worthwhile because we received the tax id # today without a hitch. In fact it has been the easiest thing we have done so far, 5 minutes in and out. Did I just let down my guard again? Wish us luck with the passport tomorrow!


Anonymous said...

You have just qualified to be a contestant on the next Amazing Race!!! Your fortitude, great endurance, perseverance, and good looks have gotten you this far! Just hang in there Zen (and Cindy), you are so close now. Love, Mom

MamaPoRuski said...

Wow, What an adventure! Yes, after being in Ukraine trying to complete official business in reasonable amounts of time, you understand why everyone is just so willing to pay "expediency fees" just to get service! Heartbreaking that they treat each other that way! You will never be so overjoyed as the few minutes you spend in customs bringing your child home once in the US! You will actually thank the official with smiles and maybe even a hug at their friendliness and expediency! (even waiting an hour is short after being in Ukraine!)

Jefferson Hunt said...

Wow! This is really going to make for a memorable trip...and make your joy over Ruslan even greater. I've been updating my blog from my notebook from last year and we had nothing like what you've been experiencing. We had a one-day delay one time and our translator got majorly chewed out by an upity Ukie notary once. You guys are awesome.