Settling into the Long term house-sitting :-
When accepting a Long term house-sitting assignment anywhere in the world, you need to consider your readiness to live in an unfamiliar environment for an extended period, and what simple things you might need to call that place home for a while. If you are an experienced house-sitter ready to set up ‘home’ in most environments you have a trick or two ready to create a comfortable space for yourself in someone else’s home. Edward our intrepid house-sitter accepted a house-sit in the Ukraine without ever having been there or even speaking Russian. Moreover, the homeowner he is helping is emigrating and is selling her home, so much of the furniture and comfortable furnishings have been taken or sold. Not put off by these challenges Edward set about creating a space for his Long term house-sitting assignment where he could live and work using what he found in the house.
Long term house-sitting – Essentials – Shaping your own space in an empty home
When a house isn’t overly cluttered, it’s easier to change the energy inside. As a house-sitter in a Long term house-sitting house that is up for sale, I had the homeowner’s permission to move, clean and even decorate if I felt so inclined. She also said I should eat whatever I found, and to help me along she had jarred and preserved a lot of fruit and vegetables from her garden for me. When a house isn’t fancy, it’s best to do a little redecorating by removing dusty, excess fabrics, spraying off cobwebs, cleaning bare surfaces to a polish, and displaying the utilitarian side of the house as art itself. With Tina’s empty home I was striking for a combination of utilitarian art and Bauhaus.
Preparing individual rooms
So I got started with the kitchen. Taking an empty rack from a storage room, I set to stacking it full with mason jars of conserves, spices, and grains; a library shelf of glass jars with colourful, edible things inside.
Rummaging around the house a bit more, I found all manner of different spices and herbs labeled in Russian — perfect for cooking and reading practice during my Long term house-sitting. After finishing the kitchen, I repurposed the Styrofoam walls in the bedroom and office for pinning up printed images and project details that would help guide my work and visions for the next few months. I am writing a book and the Styrofoam wall became my tactile mind map.
The living room, now empty except for wooden boxes stuffed with yellowing cookbooks and Russian newspapers, was next. I cleaned and emptied the boxes, stood them vertically, and used them as stands to display the farm tools, another great collection in the house. Is it strange that a person would take farm tools and display them on boxes as if it were an art gallery? Probably so. But I find their shapes fascinating, and it gave the room a friendly quirkiness that has fit right ever since.
Lastly came the office. The headless mannequin with duct tape for breasts that had greeted me on the first night—she got a pink sweater on—and a with metal hoop, I gave her headless torso a halo. She got rechristened as Lady M, the muse of the office, and has her rightful place in the corner now. At her feet, she has three poster-quality watercolour pictures of flowers, pictures that seemed out of place in such an unadorned house, but that serve perfectly here as flowers to the muse. Next to her is “Father H”, the hat making tool, who now sits on the window sill as her companion.
With all the extra doily thingies shaken off and stored away, and the undersides of furniture and floors whacked of spider nests and dust, the house was still spare, but felt clean and lived in. Lived in by a man, perhaps. And used as a creative working space.
Early challenges of Long term house-sitting near Kiev
The day after Tina’s departure, the internet died. It was a Friday evening, I didn’t know who to call, and I spoke no Russian. Google Translate was offline. But with a Henry James novel to keep me company those first long nights, nothing felt truly lacking. It’s great to take an internet-free weekend now and again. If you have any doubts, I highly recommend it. I always take a good long paperback novel…you never know!
On Monday, I went into the town coffee shop and got through to Tina from an internet café. True to form, she went into action, speedily arranging things from afar. By Tuesday, a second modem was delivered to the house. And with a spare monitor that was now my second screen, the office was feeling complete.
At the start of this Long term house-sitting the feeling of familiarity in the house still contrasted with the very unfamiliar feelings of setting foot out the door. There is something nerve wracking and exciting all at the same time about knowing very little about where you are, and how to negotiate a new terrain without language. I knew so little I still had to guess which path to take to town, and my interactions would have to be in Russian from Day One.
After the replacement modem knocked out, I decided to go it alone to the Telecom office with Google translate. It was a comical attempt, but I got the job done. Operation successful. Harasho! хорошо!
Long term house-sitting – Essentials – Learn about your new town
The small town of Brusilov has a wild pond where the geese swim, and you can often see fisherman dotted along the banks between reeds and lily pads. Ladies in full length print dresses and baskets filled with groceries ride Schwinn bicycles on dirt roads past children playing, clad in rocker t-shirts.
In the neighbourhoods, everyone seems to have giant sunflowers in their yards, along with fruit trees, grape wines, and vegetable gardens, and people burn their rubbish on the corners of their lots.
It is a town of morning markets, of babushkas wrapped up in their bundles, selling their homegrown goods on the sidewalks of the main street. Potatoes and carrots are sold thickly coated with black soil. Berries are put into mason jars.
Kefir and milk are offered in recycled water bottles. It was a town where the architecture reminds me of an old West movie scene, you half-expected that behind the façades, a set trailer might be there instead. The post office and the telecom stores are hidden behind the main road, as are the nicer bank building and the hair salon. People here build façades to face the dusty crossroads, but the entrances are often hidden at an angle from the choking clouds of the roadways. The dust is a necessary evil: the only relevance this town has to the outside world, is that it lies on the road between other places and Kiev the capital.
Brusilov might appear a dusty little town, but from toddler to teenager, people seem to be happy and have happy childhoods here. There is plenty to buy from the markets and grocery stores, and only unusual supplies need to be sourced from outside. The fruit and produce are unimaginably fresh and cheap, as is the milk and cheese. They cost only a fraction of what you might pay even in a good value Mediterranean town of equivalent size. And yet the town is populated by a dramatically contrasting workforce. I can see two main groups, the small town urbanised folk who work in offices and schools, and the farming families dressed from a century back. Newish and oldish live side by side here.
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