You know that moment when someone asks you a question, you have no idea what the answer is/how to say it/etc. and all you do is give a blank stare or do something to pretend that you’re thinking of an answer – like scratch your temple, make a scrunch-face, something like that – but really all you’re thinking is “Oh $#%^, I have absolutely no idea what to say right now. Can we just pretend like nothing happened and I was never here?”
Now picture this: You have been invited out to a friend’s apartment who lives in a nearby village. You have never been there before but why pass up the opportunity to go experience something new. You have never been there before, but you are willing to take a shot and “figure it out.” Keep in mind, at this point, you still have absolutely no idea what the name of this village is, where it is located, where you are going once you get there, how long it takes to get there…none, you just hop on a taxi-bus and head north (maybe East but who cares, that’s not the point. I digress) with the following directions: Take number 89 to the yellow AMCTOR and change to number 7 and then get off at SV. You’ll be on the bus for about 20 minutes and you’ll know you’re close because you will see an ATB. Text or call me when you’re close and I’ll come meet you.” So far so good, right? Now you have been to one AMCTOR before – think pseudo Walmart – but not to the “yellow” one and it occurs to you after about 15 minutes: “What if you’ve already passed this thing and don’t know it, do you just get off and start asking people? Do you start asking people on the bus? Do you just ride it out? Maybe you should send a text and find out how long you’re supposed to be on this bus…that should give you a good idea…yeah that’s the one you should probably go with.” Problem: solved…except for the fact that there is no response to the message for about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile you are peering like a lost hawk, desperate for a meal, out the windows all while trying not to creep out the sweet grandmother who is sitting next to you with her little grand daughter. I should probably mention that at this point, it is clear that you are the only foreigner on this bus…well I’m lying, it’s been obvious since you handed your money to the driver. Finally, a gigantic building starts to creep around the corner and it quickly becomes quite obvious that this is your stop. Cool, all problems and nerves now quickly subdued. Simple, hop on bus 7 and take it to “SV,” whatever that is, and you’re good. Here comes bus number 7, you kindly allow a young mother and daughter to get on the bus before you. Now you walk on and hand the driver a 5 hryvnia bill and say “one please.” His response: “Yeah, I know one. One to where?”
So uh, what do you do now??
Cue the scenario mentioned at the beginning of this post. So after about 5 seconds of blankly looking at him, looking out the front window for some sort of revelation – not finding it – you respond with this gem: “Good question. I don’t know. Sorry. Goodbye…” and take your money back to depart the bus as fast as humanly possible. Thankfully, many countries in the world now have the technology to support cellphones and a quick phone call – “Yeah, so I have a funny story. Apparently I have no idea where I’m going and it costs more then 5 hryvnia…got anything that might help?” – reveals the location, the amount and is accompanied with a very genuine “Oh I am so sorry! Yeah that probably would have been good information, huh?”
So in summary, I will never give Jane Isaac a hard time while traveling for being insanely organized and emotionally attached to things being detailed, organized, and well-planned. For the record, the ATB was hidden behind a forest of trees and is not exactly visible until you are already passed it and “SV” actually looks like “CB.” Oh I didn’t mention that the bus driver spoke Russian and this took place in Ukraine, my bad…thank you, Lena, for preparing me with the vocabulary to handle this situation! You rock!
On to other things.
When Peace Corps Volunteers first show up at site (Disclaimer: This is a generalization and not indicative of every situation and I truly just speak for my own) typically one of the first questions we ask our counterparts or ourselves is: “So what is it exactly what I’m supposed to be doing right now?” Reality is, most of the time, there is no real answer. For example, some of the volunteers in Peace Corps Ukraine Group 41 were matched with schools: Youth Development, Teaching English as a Foreign Language – largest program in the world – and even some Community Development Volunteers. Typically during the summer, Ukrainian children attend any multitude of camps designed and facilitated by any number of constituent groups. Long story short, for those volunteers (and some that are in close proximity), summer camps it is. Summer camp, for those who have ever been to one that is more than simply kickball and capture the flag, may have realized that these camps requires a lot of time, energy and planning beforehand and even more energy and enthusiasm by the facilitators during the week, two week, however long event – to all my past camp counselors, I apologize, but you know I made you a better person.
As I mentioned, some newbies – yup, that’s what we will be until…well, December really – were lucky/unlucky depending on your personal preference regarding children of any age. Not because the planning work had been done, but more because it was a sign of “Hey, here is what we like to do. Here is how we are currently doing things. We will do something like this again. You are going to help us do that…and more, because we brought you here for help, fresh ideas, and an opportunity for cultural exchange.” So while the previous “quote” reflects those placed with organizations already in the middle of planning or facilitating events/programs/call it what you want, the reality is that can pretty much be related to any volunteer anywhere. I did not realize it until just now, but yeah that statement pretty much sums up the three main goals of the Peace Corps…yes there is a reason for everything.
How does that relate to yours truly and what I will be doing? Well, the organization I am partnered with is called – in Russian – Perspecktiva, which interestingly enough translates directly into “Perspective.” It is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) designed to support those with disabilities in achieving equal rights. The rights of those with disabilities in this country will be saved for an entirely different post, after I find the information – yes, I have been looking…red flag number one – mostly because this is not a political blog – I promised myself I would refrain from political statements here…you’re all welcome – and policy discussion may give the wrong impression. The organization is also extremely young and has a director who is very passionate about this topic. What does that equal for the two of us: win! Here is a guy who is looking to establish his organization, learn some things about organizational management, and really become a leader in the advocacy for person’s with disabilities and wants ME to help him do that. Going to be a cool two years – yes, there will be ups and downs obviously – because as Ivan and I have talked about the past few days, the point needs to be “Not just doing things for the sake of doing them. Instead, doing things specifically designed with the organizational mission in mind.” My hat is off to him for starting this and I only hope I can meet his expectations.
So in short, that is what I will be doing for the next few years. Intertwined with that I will be trying to establish relationships with as many Ukrainians as possible, attempting to learn as much Russian as possible – so people don’t always have to speak mostly English to me – assisting other volunteers on projects, and always on the lookout for additional projects and appreciate the hell out of the opportunity to be not only working, but living in another country. There will also be soccer/football played tomorrow which will equal the most intense amount of physical activity I’ve experienced since March: well unless you count the 20 minute walk to work physically strenuous. Seriously, more people should do this…here’s to hoping the budget is only increased in the future and not sacrificed for other items. Here’s the website for those who don’t like Google: http://www.peacecorps.gov