So there I was at the post office with two bags full of wrapped gifts to send back to my two families in the U.S., armed with the Russian words for all of the items in hopes that I would not need to unwrap each one. I was trying to communicate to my Window 14 woman that I needed two large boxes. Honestly, I felt quite sure that I had communicated that, yet rather than walking over to the boxes, she was asking me numerous questions and searching my face for any sign of comprehension. It was more likely one question stated in different ways, but as this question did not appear to involve any numbers or colors, on which I have been gaining the upper hand as of late, I was at a total loss.
I was giving her my best “I’d love to know what you’re saying” look, wishing she could just throw a number or a color in there to make me feel good, when there was a voice at my shoulder: “Do you want all together?”
I looked to my left and saw a young man who was taking care of some business at Window 13. “You speak English! Thank you!” I said, and then turned back to the woman and said, “Nyet.” Why did she think I was asking for two boxes if I in fact wanted them all together?
She was in the process of cramming the items into the boxes when the young man, apparently finished with his business, appeared at my other shoulder and asked, “Do you need more help?”
“Um…could you ask her, please, if there is anything more she will need to ask me?” He complied and was met with a very affirmative response involving numerous forms and a lengthy explanation. He looked a bit dubious about the process but proceeded to help me for the next 20 minutes or so in filling out forms and relaying messages. I said a time or two that I understood if he needed to go, since he was occasionally checking his watch or getting calls, but he said it was fine. I made some small talk with him, finding out that his name was Yaroslav, and that he had studied English in college somewhere and had lived in Finland for a year.
Finally the moment arrived when all of the forms were completed and the bulging boxes had been taped. When the price was shown to me on the calculator, both of my people asked me a couple of times whether I was able to pay that, or whether I wanted to take some items out.
“No, nothing comes out!” I repeated, trying to imagine one or two family members wondering why I was snubbing them this year. “These are Christmas gifts for different people. They’re all important!” I knew that this amount of money, while regular-expensive for me, was outlandish for them.
Then came that heart-sinking moment when I realized that although I had checked before I left the house to see if I had everything — small pens, thick pens, tape, addresses, scissors (I don’t know why) — I had not supplied myself with the aforementioned outlandish amount of hryvnya. I sheepishly explained my situation, and Yaroslav and I were off on an expedition to get the cash before the post office closed. After a number of failed attempts at banks that did not have ATMs inside (which I have been urged to always use), I gave up and said I would use the ATM outside the post office. The first machine stubbornly refused to comply, so it was not until the man at the other machine finally stepped away that I found success. As I turned and said that it looked like I was finally getting my money, he said, “I need to go. Bye!”
I had been thinking about what I could say to Yaroslav to thank him for all of his help. I had thought up some lovely heartfelt words of appreciation but kept wondering how I could more adequately do it justice. Now that he was leaving, I came out with, “Thank you so much, Yaroslav!” and he was gone.
Thank you so much, Yaroslav, for giving so generously of your time to a total stranger. Imagine if we were all like you.