Working "Na Balconye" - Daily Routine in Zaporizhzhia
Updated: Jul 30, 2022
Getting settled into life in Zaporizhzhia, we faced an interesting - and somewhat incongruous - set of circumstances. On one hand, we were in Ukraine, and that definitely qualifies as travel. On the other hand, we were also home with family, which doesn’t necessarily jive with the whole spend-a-year-on-the-road schtick (hard to call ourselves “travelers” when Jenna’s mom insisted on cooking and doing our laundry for us... Pretty nice set-up, though!).
So yeah, more like travel (modified) during our stay, but we still needed to figure out a decent weekday regimen to actually do some work. Here’s our solution:
Starting the Day Right - A Ukrainian Mom’s Breakfast Spread
Chipp’s folks, until quite recently, had a 30ish-year-old microwave / “science oven.” Did it kick off some serious radiation? Probably. Did it still work when they finally replaced it? You bet. Lesson? There’s something to be said about the reliability of old stuff.
Every morning in Zap, Chipp started his day with a piping hot cup of coffee. French press? Nope. Drip? Nope. 35-year-old, Soviet-made percolator? Yep! Say what you will about these old-time appliances, but they were built to last, and this coffee helped ease the way out of bed and right into another delicious breakfast.
Chipp knew better by this point in time, but a new visitor would likely assume, well, Jenna’s mom makes massive, home-cooked lunches and dinners every day - surely she throws in the towel for breakfast?
Fighting back a tremendous urge to make an Airplane! reference, nope, no towels were thrown in for breakfast. Every morning we walked into a kitchen table covered with another delicious spread - blinchiki (tiny crepe-like treats lathered in sour cream or homemade jam), zucchini pancakes, farm-fresh eggs (from Jenna’s aunt and uncle’s chickens), piroshki stuffed with mashed potatoes and onions, and always a big plate of cold cuts, too, because why not?
Foreshadowing slightly, but there’s a reason Chipp left Ukraine about 20 pounds heavier than when he arrived.
Working “Na Balconye” and Our Friend Parkinson
Between the food, drinks, naps, and visits with family, we still needed to work. We needed to reestablish a routine after leaving the one we’d built in Istanbul. If we didn’t impose this structure on the day, we wouldn’t get anything done - a recurring theme everywhere, not just Ukraine.
Working at the kitchen table was out of the question - no way we’d be able to focus with all those delicious smells. Solution? Convert the balcony from a place to hang and dry laundry into the “Chipp and Jenna office.” Folding table and some chairs from a family friend, and boom, good as renting an office!
But, we definitely only had a brief sweet spot of productivity out “na balconye” (on the balcony). From dwelling over post-breakfast coffee to the lunch-is-ready call of “Cheeeep - gotov?” (Chipp, ready [for lunch]?), we had a limited window to work efficiently.
Enter our friend, Parkinson, or, more precisely, Parkinson’s Law. You may not be familiar with the name, but most people intimately understand its truth. Simply put, work expands to fill the time allotted.
Jenna definitely has more discipline, but as Chipp wrote his daily articles, he’d take as much - or as little - time available. If he had the entire day, you can safely bet he could find a creative way to drag out and procrastinate as long as possible. If he had a hard, food- and beer-related deadline, he could find a whole boatload of efficiency to quickly knock out his work.
More Food… and Nap-inducing Lunch Beers
After reading the above section, you may be wondering, why couldn’t you just keep working after lunch? Fair question.
First, grocery shopping in Ukraine differs from the way most people shop in the States. Rather than do a massive, once-a-week trip to a huge supermarket, most people head to the bazaar - and its assortment of indoor/outdoor stalls - daily to pick up fresh vegetables, meat, bread, cheese, etc. - basically whatever they need for the next 24 hours of meals.
Second, when Jenna’s dad made these daily trips to the bazaar, he religiously filled a growler for Chipp at the local beer stand - hard to complain about a few glasses of dark Ukrainian beer at lunch!
Related, Chipp’s come to accept that he couldn’t live the Mad Men lifestyle. Three-martini lunch and try to be productive in the afternoon? No way. With a belly full of strong beer and Ukrainian food, the work ship effectively sailed after lunch.
Fortunately, though, Chipp had a convenient - and more acceptable - excuse for rolling straight from the table to bed. Jenna’s folks embrace the post-lunch nap tradition, beer or not, and we absolutely hopped on that train, too!
Afternoon Strolls through Zaporizhzhia and Chipp’s Chip Business
Years ago, when Chipp spent a summer living and studying in Russia, he ordered a beer out at a local bar. The bartender - quite adamantly - insisted that he also take a little bag of “cheepsey” (potato chips). Turns out, if you drink without eating, you’re considered an alcoholic. Throw down a bag of chips with your beer? May as well canonize you!
How’s this story tie in with our time in Ukraine? Well, after our post-lunch naps, we’d go out for a stroll - either just a quick trip around the neighborhood or take a bus into the city center for a longer one. Great way to get some “exercise,” and on one of these afternoons, Chipp was figuratively slapped in the face by an oh-man-that-should’ve-been-my-million-dollar-idea billboard - Chipster’s! A chip company. Called Chipster’s. By a guy named Chipp.
Would’ve been perfect.
American Football in Ukraine
This one doesn’t fall into the daily routine category, but it’s a cool juxtaposition anyway.
During our last trip to Ukraine, we took Jenna’s folks traveling for a couple weeks after our time in Zaporizhzhia. On a Sunday night in a bar in Budapest, there happened to be a football game on TV - we drank, ate wings, and otherwise pretended we were at any corner bar in the States for the game, giving Jenna’s dad a good sense of a solid American tradition.
Fast forward to this trip, and we wanted to do the football thing again. An absolute sweetheart, Jenna’s mom made wings (Ukrainian style), we picked up some pizza, and we streamed a football game. While we couldn’t get a Bills game, we watched the Chiefs in an absolute shootout - lot of scoring definitely makes it far more entertaining for someone learning the rules of the game.
And, after checking the American football box, we did a side-by-side comparison of a night watching futbol football. Replace the pizza and wings with dried and salted fish, keep the beer, and you’ve successfully transitioned from one sport to the other.
Unfortunately, we watched Dynamo Kiev get pretty thoroughly thrashed. But, on the plus side, Chipp learned the Russian-language equivalent of “getting your ass handed to you.” When a team loses badly, the winners have given the losers “an ass full of cucumbers…”