There has yet to be a month during my service in Ukraine where I did not argue with an ATM. The machine itself is perfectly compliant and even has an English setting so I am able to use it easily enough. The row comes when I need to pull out my remaining funds after a big spending weekend and the machine denies my request. Today I faced that challenge whilst pushing a drunk man. Ukraine is technologically advanced in that you have access to almost every thing you need; internet, cell phone, utilities, etc – inside of your local store at one of many kiosks lining the wall. The downside is that these kiosks are pushed very close together and privacy is somewhat of a misnomer.
As I argued with the ATM to give me money a drunk man and his friend tried to occupy a space in front of the kiosk next to me designated for one body. They were arguing on why the machine wasn’t working and both wanted to prove the other wrong. This meant that one of the men kept spilling into me, into my personal ATM space, which is much smaller than regular ‘personal space’ and he did not like it when I tried to shoulder him back. I ended my turn at the ATM and waited for him to be finished at his machine before I proceeded again. As an American in this country everyone thinks that I am rich and my security and safety are often guided by a paranoid fear of being robbed. When I tell people that I am a Peace Corps Volunteer and emphasize that volunteers don’t get paid they tend to think I am lying. I could show them my account but I’m afraid they’d try and take it anyway.
I put in 120 but the machine told me I had to take out my money in multiples of 50. In Ukraine this is a problem because even if a machine says, ‘0% Fee For Any Transaction’ what they really mean is, ‘We are going to take a certain percentage that changes every week and that you will never see on your statement that you do not get because our mail system is crap.’ I was forced to take out only 100 UAH. The next time I go to the ATM, pending whatever fee they took, I may only be able to get 10 UAH out of the machine if I am lucky.
Not only do Peace Corps Volunteers not get paid enough but we bleed money randomly throughout the month. I was on a bus that broke down and everyone had to get out and hop on a new bus. Rather than continue on our journey we were forced to buy another ticket. I would estimate that I lose 1-300 UAH a month from small inconveniences.
Tonight I am adding lines to my English Club’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ because some students wanted to have bigger, English speaking parts. When I walked out of my English Club today I felt very happy and accomplished. When the students commit to a project I am happy to say that they really commit. I changed the date to a time when I knew my Counterpart would not be able to join the club and after seeing all of the student’s smiling faces, I’d make that call again.