Monday, September 17, 2007

No Soviet Pensioner Left Behind

Two other aspects of Kiev were transportation and beggars. The metro and the bus may have been cheap, but the cost was that of time: the metro, during my travels, came only every five minutes or so (compared to 1 or 2 minutes elsewhere) and sometimes as long as eight minutes elapsed between trains! Consequently the trains were almost always packed. And as for the buses, in busy areas, the bus stops would actually have lines extending down the sidewalk/street.

Most of the beggars I've mentioned outside the churches were not run-of-the-mill bums (on that note, while I was in walking around in Manhattan the night before orientation - nearly three months ago! - one such bum was carrying a sign: "Give me money for drugs, booze and hookers - hey, at least I'm not bull___ing you." This led to many onlookers, of course, and he started yelling, "hey, this isn't a ___ing press conference, where's the ___ing money?"). Anyway, they were not run-of-the-mill bums were rather old babushkas, victims of a world that changed too late for them; when the Soviet Union collapsed and was replaced with new fledgling capitalist societies, it may have opened up the future for coming generations, but it pulled the rug out from under this one. They will probably not live to see a benefit from the change, but rather will eke out their days in poverty, abandoned and sacrificed to the future, their world having simply changed beneath their feet and left them behind through no fault of their own. This was not the case just in Kiev, of course, but elsewhere in Russia as well, as prices rise while "New Russians" prosper (Moscow is the most expensive city in the world), but of course pensions are what they are. Countless others despondently sell fruit or flowers outside metro stations. I think men have largely avoided this problem because they're already dead by this age; in Russia the average male life expectancy hovers around 60.

On a lighter note, I did manage to get Chicken Kiev at the airport - as Anna put it, the equivalent of finding French fries in France!

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