A year in Dnepropetrovsk

An American volunteer in Ukraine

After me, the flood

I am still wet, two hours after arriving at work, despite having carried an umbrella wth me. Rain is always tricky in this city, even when just a small drizzle. The streets and sidewalks are so riddled with potholes, any rain whatsoever will collect in large puddles scattered without rhyme or reason and barring your path. The drainage here must be pretty poor, I think, given how much water congregates after only a few minutes of rain and stays for some time afterward. Add to this the fact that women wear crazy heels all year round, despite the weather and the temperature. One does not wear winter boots or galoshes, as one would in America. One wears fine leather boots with a large stiletto heel, and one somehow skirts around the puddles as if they weren’t there. I don’t know how the women do it. I find myself constantly looking down, even when the weather is fine, lest I trip over a some kind of hole or kink in the sidewalk (and it’s even worse on the roads!). If I struggle so, I who live in the center of the city, where everything is new and capitalistic and thriving, just imagine what it is like the further one gets from this modern metropolis.

In any event, today was one of the greatest downpours I’ve seen in the city, and certainly the largest I’ve had to struggle through. The walk to work was like a giant adventure: Indiana Jones and the Ukrainian Downpour! I was running and leaping just to walk along the sidewalk without soaking my shoes (and running and leaping in 3 inch stiletto heals is no easy feat). Then, to cross the street, I often had to walk 1/4 of a block out of my way to find a manageable leap, putting myself in harm’s way by stepping in front of the oncoming traffic (but what threat is death compared with getting wet and ruining my shoes?). With my umbrella as my shield and my bag tucked firmly under my arm, I laboriously traversed the 1/2 mile or so from Russian class to the JCC, but just when I thought that all would be well and I would soon be safe and dry, I found myself face to face with the greatest challenge of all.

Before me, barring the way from the sidewalk to the synagogue, was a river. Not a puddle, not a stream, a river. The entire street had been converted into a powerful effluent, stronger than the mighty Jordan (although if anyone has actually been to Israel, you know how easy this is to accomplish)! I wish I had had my camera on me so that I could show you just how little I am exaggerating right now. I was walking on a street that comes to a T intersection with the street the synagogue is on, with the synagogue directly in front of the road I was walking itself (you then have to walk through the synagogue to get to the JCC). I walked a block to the left, to see if there was a way to ford the flood. There was not. I walked back to where I began and 1/2 a block to the right to try my luck there. Nothing. The best vantage point I had found was a sandbar of concrete in the middle of the river all the way to the left. I might be able to make it there in two enormous leaps and only get half of one shoe wet, but where to go from there? I scoured the land. This is a very busy block, and traffic rarely ceases enough for one to cross on a good day. Usually one has to defy all common sense and self preservation instinct and walk boldly in front of the three lanes of oncoming traffic which come from two different directions (straight on and making the left at the T, with no stop sign or traffic light or lane markers to control the situation), head held high in the air, eyes looking straight at the driver’s so he knows not to mess with you. This time, however, I would not be able to stride boldly across the street, but would be trapped on a dry island surrounded by at least four inches of water on all sides, beset by angry drivers with nowhere to go but down– down into the depths of the quagmire before me, ripped by currents and browned by pollution.

There was nothing for it but to go for it. I waited until the traffic had ebbed as much as it was likely to, said a silent prayer, and lept, clearing the first hurdle in two clean leaps, striking shallower ground with the first touch, and only wetting the front of my foot slightly in the process. I allowed myself a moment’s rest to sigh with relief and make my final calculations. From this vantage point, I could see that it was not possible to clear the second river without getting thoroughly soaked, but the concrete island continued to the right a little ways. I walked carefully along, aware that the traffic was flowing again and that I was conveniently stranded right in the middle of the street, barring the path of two of the three cars leading the fray. I’m going to die, I thought, and yet I was unable to bring myself to run through the river to safety. Instead, I lifted my umbrella and made myself as flat as possible, squeezing myself in between the two lines of traffic, getting seriously splashed in the process. But I was alive, and I was still far drier than if I had taken my chances with the river. Now, with only five seconds before the next wave of cars would reach me (and I would certainly not survive, as an entire army of cars was approaching this time), I somehow found the shallowest path that was within my reach. Without thinking, I leapt as far as I could, landed my already wet foot about 5 inches in the stream, and propelled myself across to the sidewalk and safety.

The crowd that is always congregated in front of the syngagogue remained completely impassive, despite having witnessed my death-defying heroics, but when I arrived in the JCC office, my disheveled state was commented upon immediately. And disheveled I was! I was wet all over, and my right leg was completely soaked from mid-calf down. My hair was a frizzy mess, my cheeks were red with cold and exertion, and I still had a look of desperation in my eye. But now, my adventure properly recognized and applauded, I made myself some tea and sat down to work, a little wet and uncomfortable, but alive to tell the tale.


Well, I am sick, as was to be expected. I hadn’t been sleeping particularly well, and had spent part of the weekend with Ori, Amir and Sharon’s younger son, who we thought was sick with the chicken pox until late in my visit when we realized that he had a fever, cough, and stuffy nose in addition to the poor boy’s rash. I thought I might starve off the beginnings of a cold, but I ended up sitting for a few hours in the tepid office, soaking wet. What with the first grant for the Hanukkah play due tomorrow, I couldn’t leave before I finished a certain number of edits and budgetary updates. Finally I was able to call a cab to take me home (I dared not repeat my adventure a second time; only fools are so valiant!), where I immediately passed out for some four hours. Now I am reading The Once and Future King (I had been reading A Brief History of Time, but everyone knows the only way to beat a cold is with good fiction), drinking tea, blowing my nose at a steady rate of 1 tissue (and by tissue, I mean coarse, grey toilet paper) every three minutes, and languishing in self-pity, which is the worst of it all, because I absolutely hate feeling sorry for myself. Poor me!



  Cindy wrote @

Hi Mich,
What a story!! I can just picture you jumping through the river to get to work.
Great writing.

  Terentia wrote @

Keep up the good work.

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