Sunday, July 31, 2011

Finally in Kyiv

We made it to Kyiv a couple of days ago after the most miserable day of travel I've ever had in my life (and this is saying something because I've had some pretty miserable travel days in the last few years, including a 24 hour surprise layover in Russia where I wasn't allowed to leave the smoke filled airport due to visa restrictions and also the infamous Jordan/Israel "take to nearest police station" border crossing episode, which grandma recently referred to mid shudders as "that aweful aweful day"). It all started in SLC where a flight delay got me freaked out that I was going to miss my connecting flight in NYC where I was supposed to meet up with Matt to fly on to Paris and the from there, to Kyiv. The flight made it to NYC in time, however, not that it mattered because when I arrived I was told by Air France (aka, the WORST airline in the history of aviation) that I was nowhere in their records but not to worry because "we'll totally put you on standby for flights over the next day until we find you something suitable. Totally." After lots of panicked yelling (not the mean kind of yelling, but the productive kind), I was passed off to Delta (I think because it was Delta who I made the reseravations with in the first place) who was much more responsive to my productive yelling when I told them that I didn't care if they had to hire me as a flight attendant to put me on a flight that went through Iraq on an airline that came into existance that morning, I had to be in Kyiv by Saturday afternoon. This panic was because Matt had made the flight out of NYC and the thought of him rolling into totally unfamiliar and (let's be honest) not super friendly Kyiv airport (which is actually a good half hour drive outside of the city) was a little worrisome, particularly because I had no way to communicate with him to let him know that a) I was alive, b) I was coming to Kyiv at a later time, and c) when that later time was. Eventually the Delta people worked something out with a Russian airline (Aeroflot) where surprisingly nobody speaks any English at all, including the pilot who, to his credit, desperately tried to translate all of his messages throughout the flight until some point toward the end of it where he finally gave up. I think this didn't matter, however, because most of his translations ended up being an incomprehensible attempt at interpretation of about 2% of his original message. At one point he came on and spoke in Russian for about 4 minutes and then followed it in English with something that sounded like, "Hello. I'm pilot. I fly plane. Plane, he flying. Fly. All you need is love. Heppy birsday" followed by fragments of what I think was the pledge of allegiance. But it have also been lyrics to Lady Gaga's "Poker Face." (This is actually almost no exaggeration).

Of course the flight out of NYC left about 2 hours late (because when has a flight from JFK ever been on time). But I barely made my connecting flight in Moscow anyway (yes, I woke up in SLC and somehow ended up in Russia, never intending any of this). I rolled into Kyiv about 5 hours after Matt and frantically searched the airport until I found him, totally relaxed and, according to him, prepared to just make the Kyiv airport his permanent home until someone he knew showed up. I think Matt has never been stressed out in his life, which is probably something I should try to pick up from him because between the bar a few days ago and a few days without sleep mixed in with that travel day, I aged exactly 37 years and have started experiencing some bizzare hallucinations (which always happen at night and strangely always have to do with really large spiders above my head).

Anyway, we eventually got into the city a couple of days ago and met up with our first couch surfing friends Max and Natallia who live on the edge of Kyiv. They are probably the nicest people I have ever met in my life and I'm considering moving in with them permanently. They have two little boys (ages 2 and 3) and if I can figure out a way, I'm going to try to take one of them with us when we leave. I don't really care much which one but the older one is a little bit quieter so I think it will take them a few minutes longer to notice that he's missing. Max is a bishop in one of the Kyiv wards (he's a couple of years older than me and was called to be a bishop at age 24). We've mostly hung out with them over the last couple of days and it's been a lot of fun. Tonight we're going to try to make them Mexican food if we can remember how to make tortillas, which is iffy at best.

Yesterday we visited the temple site, which is really close to where we are staying, and then wandered the city for most of the afternoon and evening. We spent some time wandering around Big Mama, cautious of course because I'm still conviced that that thing is within minutes of coming to life and terrorizing the world with her giant mammoth head and sword (when I brought Krishelle, Will, Megan, Matthew, Andrea, and Stacee to see her 2 years ago, they had to undergo several months of therapy just to overcome the initial shock of seeing her. Big Mama is sort of the statue of liberty equivalent for Ukraine but she sits on top of the highest hill in the middle of the city and she is quite a bit bigger, plus somewhere around 600% scarier).

We'll go check out some great churches, including the catacombs and the Lavra today before hopping a train tonight to L'viv. We plan to stay in L'viv for probably just one day before heading off to Krakow.

Things are going really well so far. I'll probably touch base again in a few days. Hope everyone is doing well.

~It Just Gets Stranger

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Bar

The bar exam happened yesterday and the day before that. While full of entertaining procedures, I have to say that the test seemed to be run very well. We started early on Tuesday morning as all 500 or so of us spread out on plastic tables in a giant room while proctors wandered up and down the aisles checking on whether any of us had brought things into the room from the long list of prohibited items, which included anything not necessary to stay alive for up to 7 hours. Interestingly, the list of prohibited items seemed pretty unnecessary as the examiners provided an exhaustive list of acceptable items (which, I think, literally included only four things) that could cross the sacred threshold into test-haven. Nonetheless, the list of prohibited items included a range of things that I can only imagine somehow have the potential of concealing cheating, creating chaos, or aiding violence. I mention violence because "weapons" were actually on this list, which was unfortunate for anyone who had hoped to bring with them their lucky machete. Based on the 3,000 stern warnings we had received via email prior to the first exam day, I sort of expected to see TSA at the doors with full friskings and "nude" machines. Instead we were all mostly on the honor system, but a much more bizarre version of the honor system than any that I have ever experienced. Rather than try to explain to you the rules of this honor system, I'll provide an example of it: one friend of mine was asked to pat herself down in front of the doorman before entering the room, presumably because he wasn't comfortable patting her down himself. I never was quite sure what he expected from the self-pat down, however, and I also didn't hear whether he asked afterward if she discovered any prohibited items on herself during the quick investigation. But I wished that she had told him that during the course of her protective frisk she discovered that she was attempting to smuggle a shotgun into the testing area and thus should be immediately apprehended (this while simultaneously running away screaming, "you'll never catch me!").

The exam went without any real drama on Tuesday, although I did hear from multiple sources that someone had thrown up into a sink in the men's bathroom during the morning. Nobody knew who had done it but the talk of the lunch break was that the puke was bright orange, which I unfortunately heard about from half a dozen or so people who all seemed to be completely mesmerized by the abnormal color.

Perhaps the only entertainment of the day that wasn't disgusting was listening to the 30 minutes of instructions from Ms. Thang, explaining to us many things in painstaking detail that people should just be required to know in order to be alive. For example, she told us more than once that the top left corner of the test booklet is the one closest to the staple. We were also informed on multiple occasions that we were not allowed to take our test materials into the bathroom with us (presumably so they wouldn't get orange throw up on them). She repeatedly explained how to do tasks that each of us came out of the womb performing as she instructed us to fill out our personal information on the test materials. After each instruction she asked us to look up at her when we had completed the task so she would know when everyone was ready to move on. This seemed impractical, however, as all 500 of us were spread out so broadly across the room that there was absolutely no way whatsoever this woman could possibly have known when or if all of us were looking up at her. Fortunately we were given half of an eternity to finish each part of this process even though the most time consuming of any of the tasks constituted nothing more than filling in a couple of bubbles on a scantron bubble sheet.

Wednesday was more of the same only instead of typing essays for seven hours, we answered a couple hundred multiple choice questions. And just like that, it was over. There was some awkward clapping when we were finally released before the parking lot cleared out about 4 minutes later. There was no real intense feeling of relief when it all ended. A new sort of panic called "nothing-I-can-do-about-it panic" was immediately born, which perfectly replaced the old panic called "oh-shoot-the-test-is-in-blank-days-and-I-still-don't-understand-the-way-the-world-works panic." Neither is preferable to the other. Although the latter necessarily comes with embarrassment while the former, only the potential for it.

And now the last 24 hours have been a blur as I've attempted to get my affairs in order for a 5-week backpacking trip through eastern and central Europe with a friend (and a few family members, toward the end of it). Due to the bar (and general laziness) absolutely no plans have been made for this trip (stay tuned for some likely enlightening posts). My flight leaves five hours from now (at 8:30AM) and I just started packing. Obviously I'm feeling a great amount of urgency, as is evidenced by a much undeserved blogging break. My time management discipline has been a bit off since the test ended and I don't seem to have direction anymore. What's that saying? Idle hands are something about the devil? A penny saved is a penny earned? It takes one to know one? Don't look a gift horse in the mouth? As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death? Whatever it is, it applies here.

I'm very tired.

~It Just Gets Stranger

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Spam in the Final Hours

Well we're in the final days of battle preparation before we stampede into the great unknown. Three years of rigorous academic competition has now led us to the final hurdle for becoming whatever it is we've been trying to become for however long it's been since we started trying to become it. The bar exam starts on Tuesday this week. The bar exam is a magical mechanism by which a bunch of grumpy attorneys test and then grade hundreds of state applicants on their knowledge of 20 or so complicated legal topics, 3 of which may actually be applicable to their future careers. Some have compared it to fraternity hazing. I think though that the analogy fails because the "hazers" standing on the other end can't possibly enjoy watching any of this take place, especially having to waste the rest of their summers away grading garbled nonsense spewn out in 7 hours or so of essay typing as panicked and exhausted career beggars dump all 400,000 things they've crammed or attempted to cram into their brains, in no particular order.

My friends and I are spread broadly across the nation this evening, celebrating Pioneer Day in unison by closing up the books and calling it an early night. Annette Thacker's pony-tail has become permanently affixed to the top of her head by now (a true sign of panic) and Corey Boyd's apartment looks like a den of schizophrenics with papers strewn about containing diagrams and phrases written in giant squiggly handwriting as Boyd walks through it speaking somehow even faster than she normally speaks. I've seen or communicated with both of these super-humans and wondered if I could possibly have any claim in passing the bar exam if these two seem at all concerned. In any event I feel the bond in the air as 150 of my closest friends, once again, feel the same thing at the same time, the same way we have all felt the same things so many times before. Gosh I love my battalion.

This week as I began to study one morning I noticed that an old friend was logged onto Facebook. I clicked on his picture and attempted to instant message him, starting out by calling him an offensive-in-some-circles word that had sort of a special meaning to us over the years. Instantly I realized that I had in fact clicked on the wrong picture and instead had clicked on a person who is older, conservative, professional, and absolutely would not think what I had said was funny. In my 3 seconds of absolute panic, I immediately began typing: "heeeey, :) I just won a free ipod!!! This is ToToAlLy LEGIT man!!!! :)-"

Yup. That's right. I pretended to be spam. It apparently worked as I got a message from him a little later saying: "Eli, I think your facebook got hacked! I'm so sorry! I just got a really weird message from you. You may need to change you password." Deception, successful. Soul, less.

Ironically this was the day I visited the prison and subsequently vowed to never ever do anything wrong ever again, including parading myself as spam online to avoid consequences of my carelessness.

Anyway, off to the bar. Please send all positive vibes my way. I would also appreciate sacrificing firstborns if you've got one to spare.

~It Just Gets Stranger