One of these days the title of the update will be, “It’s Open!” with pictures of a packed Cafe, full of our neighbors, friends and community. Today is not that day, not yet.
Are we closer to opening? Yes. Does it feel that way? No. I have to remind myself that though this has taken almost 3yrs to get to this point, we have covered a lot of ground, and by God’s grace are still chipping away. It’s at times like this in Ukraine, with the political upheaval and tension, that people are searching for hope. I sure wish we could already be using the building, but we’re still stuck in the winter weather without heat.
Today Dema and I visited the regional gas “chief.” Each time I visit, I think of the Godfather series. It’s like we’re dealing drugs or attempting to secure some plutonium.
He invited us in, ‘please sit down.’ The next question caught me by surprise. “How can I help you guys today?” It was all I could do to keep from laughing (in delirium). They know we have been calling several times per week, for 6 months asking for our gas/heat to be turned back on.
We have payed 100% of the legal fees to convert our gas from private to business (in Sept 2013), but for reasons only reasonable to this part of the world, the documents are still not ready. We have been told ‘next month’, and ‘next week’ at least 10 times. Each time there is some missing detail or process ‘discovered’ that requires someone to provide a document, a stamp, or receipt.
My response was simple and to the point, “September of last year I sat in this chair, and you told me that if we paid the fee, the gas would be back on by October – guaranteed.” He began to explain in Ukrainian the many obstacles and processes that we are unaware of. I smiled and replied, “You know what? I just want to make Pizza, and I can’t. There’s this little gas valve that needs to be turned on, that’s all I want to talk about – when will you turn that on?”
We had an amicable conversation. He brought in one of his workers and documents began moving – opening, closing. Phones were picked up, and things seemed to be happening. I think it’s possible that our Cafe documents only progress when we physically show up. At one point he informed us the process could take another 5 months. I replied with the ultimatum that we would then seek our money back and convert the Cafe to full electric. It turned out this was misinformation after his employee confirmed they actually only needed about a week. Bullet dodged. Heart rate returns to normal.
So we’re to return next Tuesday in person, and receive the final stack of gas documents that we are to take to another town – about 45 minutes away to a government inspection office. They will review the documents produced by the gas company, and approve/reject them. They will most likely find something, that’s their job – it’s the same with doctors when you visit one here, if they can’t find something wrong with you, they haven’t done their job!
So just in case you missed that – we are working with our local gas company, who requires us to work through the regional gas company, which can’t turn on our gas without us working through the federal inspectors. I won’t be surprised if our little ole’ Cafe needs a stamp from the interim Ukrainian Presidents office – who will then require us to get permission from Putin who supplies the gas.
If by miracle the documents are approved without issue, they’ll give us a receipt which we return back to the Gas company. With this receipt they will schedule a few of their guys to physically come to the Cafe, install the new meter, connect the Pizza Oven, and turn the small tap back on. At one point we laughed together at just how powerful a small little metal tap is in this country. He said, “It’s small, but it brings with it many problems.”
All of that to say, we are aiming now for an April 1 ‘gas on’ date. It won’t be an April 1 ‘grand opening’ because we found out a few more ‘gas’ hurdles today we’ll be working on this month.
It turns out that if you have business ‘gas’ in Ukraine, anyone that is to touch the gas (cooks, janitor) must undergo a specific gas course 90 minutes away in another city. This course, unconfirmed but reported to be +10 days long and only takes place a few times per year. So essentially if you want to make a pizza or adjust the heating in the building, you need to be certified with the gas company.
I hesitate writing in such detail but so many ask, have prayed and given toward this endeavor. Anyone that has attempted to push through the bureaucracy and corruption over here immediately appreciate the challenges. However those in consumer friendly, business friendly environments might wonder how it’s possible that the Cafe isn’t already in operation. This is just a taste of our more recent challenges.
Other remaining challenges include:
- Fire Department – we are only partially legal. We haven’t found one legally ‘certified’ private building in town yet. They all pay the Fire Department every few months $15-20 as a ‘fine’ for not having their documents. The reason for this is that it can cost over $3,000 to receive such documents, which simply provides a piece of paper. To private businesses here, that may as well be $30,000, so the entire system has developed a ‘work around’ through the little ‘fines’. We have started the legal route, paid deposits but now trying to get some sort of guarantee that if we do finish paying this, we won’t ‘also’ get a regular visit from the friendly fireman.
- Heath & Food Inspection – as we approach an actual ‘opening’ date, we need to finalize who will work (for wages vs volunteer) in the Cafe. Those working and paying taxes must undergo a series of medical examinations which are not your standard western exam – we will be organizing this this month.
- Electric – Everything is going well with this, however taking more time than they said it would. We’ve bought our new required ‘business’ meter, and documents are being completed this week. They hope to install it next week which should not only connect our new electricity but stabilize it and add an additional 5000watts of much needed power for the kitchen.
Some have asked about our finances, if financial support would help expedite the opening date. Without bribing we have taken the slow and legal route.. and being so close we must finish this well for our testimony in the area long term.
We have paid everything to date that we can. However in the short term we do have some significant costs coming up that we’d love some help with.
We are anticipating $5-8k of operational costs out of the gate for the first two months. This includes salaries, taxes, utilities and food. It also includes finalizing the fire legalization, medical exams and training costs for Gas certification. This isn’t money we have personally, all of our reserves have been exhausted. If you have made it this far in our blog, and would like to participate in our final stretch – click here to donate online. 100% goes to the project, nothing to our family personally.
The summer would be a great time to get operational and figure out our costs heading into winter (where our heating costs could be quite dramatic). In the meantime we are doing all we can, including finishing up our website (in Ukrainian and English – I want to have a live webcam in the dining room for all of you to hang out with us!).
So there you have it on the Cafe. The mayor and town are ready for it to open and we anticipate a very cool grand opening this spring or summer.
Bruce & Deb