Places I’ve Lived: California, Ukraine, and Back Again

Where have you lived, Katie Peoples?

Perkins and Grand, Oakland, Calif., $1,050 (shared)
This was my first apartment, after my sister and I came to the realization that after sharing a bedroom during childhood and then a house in adulthood, we had to part ways or kill each other.

It was a basement apartment with a tiny bedroom that barely fit the queen bed my then-boyfriend and I brought with us. The rest of the furnishings were hand-me-downs from my rich sister who had it all stored in her old garage in Alameda. The apartment had crooked floors, three windows (all with bars), and contact paper on the walls in the bathroom. To get to it you had to go through the side gate of the much nicer apartment building it was below, then a second gate, past the artists’ studios and garbage bins, and there you were.

But it was cheap, close to BART and utilities were included. It was also next to the best Ethiopian food, and I gained ten pounds as a result of living there.

 

Musikalnaya Street, Chernihiv, Ukraine
I joined the Peace Corps. My second home away from home was the apartment of a young widow, Inna, and her preteen twins, Alina and Dima, in Chernihiv. I liked this little apartment a lot because it was cozy and warm when it was so, so, so cold outside. The building had a tiny elevator which I was always suspicious of, and thus, avoided.

My host family, like most of the tenants, kept vegetables in the basement of the building in little storage units and my poor brother Dima always got sent down to get the bucket of potatoes. This place was a jackpot as far as apartments go for Ukraine. My first introduction to Ukraine was an awful, run down sanitorium that was freezing at night and had a simple hose over a drain for a shower. I walked into this place expecting the worst and nearly wept with joy at the bright colors, warm kitchen and hot modern shower. And it had laundry!

 

Lenina Street, Vasilkivka, Ukraine, $50/mo.
My first apartment in the field was, I was told, temporary—I would only need it for about eight weeks because a woman closer to the school promised to rent her apartment to me—so there was no reason to get internet installed. I arrived at this apartment in the middle of a blizzard. Most apartments/houses in Ukraine start running their heat mid-October (October 15, to be exact according to host mom Inna) so by mid-December they’re pretty toasty. Not so for my Lenina apartment—it was near freezing. I was warned not to get changed out of my clothes but to just go to bed because I’d be too cold. In the morning a neighbor came over and unclogged my shower, which was spewing up some small food matter I’d rinsed down the sink in the kitchen. The neighbor, Sasha, turned out to be the director of the local sports school and took no time in asking whether I was married and if this boyfriend of mine was tall. I spent my first Christmas in Ukraine alone, curled against the heater in my bedroom reading Harry Potter on my computer and willing myself not to cry.

 

Partyzonskaya Street Vasilkivka, Ukraine, $50/mo.
My site mate and I dubbed this the Peace Corps Palace, and my regional manager told me it was the nicest apartment he’d ever seen given to a volunteer. The whole apartment had recently been remodeled and had a much more spacious floor plan than other Soviet apartments with a huge wide living room and two small bedrooms. Even though the living room had 16 different patterns and the glare off the shiny wallpaper made me squint, this was easily the nicest apartment I stayed in during my service.

But nothing’s free right? My landlady and her family would often come into my apartment and do things like turn down the heat, cook in the kitchen. One of them stole the iron I was borrowing from my boss. My boss had words with the landlady, and I was out of that apartment three weeks after Orthodox Easter. Sigh.

 

Pervamayskaya Street Vasilkivka, Ukraine, $50/mo. ($55/mo. in the winter)
After going from the Palace to this dump I was crushed. Only two of my windows opened—a tiny square one in my bedroom and a long skinny one in the kitchen. The toilet had a pull chain and was actually crumbling. The wallpaper in the WC was coming off the ceiling because of a leak in my upstairs neighbor’s bathroom that neither he nor my landlord were going to fix. My parents came to visit and almost took me home. My sister actually cried.

My neighbors here were awesome though. They talked to me when I was outside, told me when I had mail, and helped me fix my crappy lock. The lady who worked at the shop next door never forgot my parents and always asked after them and would then compliment them for how young they looked, despite being older than 55. Sometimes I miss this place, even the spiders and the mouse I found dead in my sink. One morning I woke up to the beginning of a open casket funeral procession outside my door, making my deceased neighbor the third dead person I saw in Ukraine.

 

Crossroads Drive, North Charleston, S.C., $750/mo.
After Ukraine nothing looked bad. This place was a one bedroom, 800 square foot apartment and we got it for $750/month, utilities not included. I was still bathing in the afterglow of my reunion with America so I was only too happy to drink all the tap water I could, whenever I wanted, while using a washer AND dryer. My number one priority then was get a job that paid money. I got a barista gig. Being so far from home and in a whole other culture again was fun but I couldn’t wait to move back to California. I do miss the fried pickles.

 

Downtown San Diego, Calif, $1,550/mo. (shared)
We picked the first apartment within our budget to get back to us which turned out to be kind of expensive for San Diego. However I conveniently got a job working as a teacher at an ESL school just a few blocks away. I loved the ten-minute walk to work, but then I realized I was seeing more and more of my students in the elevators, in the garage, in the small gym, and worst of all yelling at each other just outside my window on Friday night. And if it’s not them it’s a bunch of drunk college kids. In the six months I’ve been here there have been more fire alarms than I’d like in a residence and I’ve had to yell at a few kids being too rowdy at weird hours. We’re currently looking for a new place because this one makes us feel old.

 

Katie Peoples lives in San Diego and is an ESL teacher by day, writer by night.

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