Written last night:
So literally one minute ago I was approached in a coffee shop – yes they exist here in Ukraine – by a woman who was trying to see if my internet worked. Now the awkward thing about this exchange is: if she had approached me and started speaking to me in Russian, I actually would have known what she was saying. Instead, she started speaking to me in French, German, something Western European. I started responding in Russian and I think she got the hint. This was all weird to me…I literally just kind of froze. Hindsight, maybe I should have actually broke out the English. That whole exchange has caused me to reflect on an email I sent to my mom today. In it, among other things, I told her “I am going to go to a ‘Coffee Life’ (think Starbucks), study some Russian, and just be.”
Speaking of just being, that’s exactly what I have been doing since my last post. Nothing earth shattering or monumental – at least by my astronomical standards for the grandiose – but rather, just trying to live and be a part of my city. Yes, I just called Zaporozhye my city…well and 999,999 other people…because it is my home now. For the next two years I will be residing in Zaporozhye, Ukraine. The longer this is viewed as a temporary position, the longer this is going to take me to accomplish anything here. I mean, not to say that I haven’t noticed that I have already been here for 10 weeks – almost as long as I was in training – but it is always fun to start to take ownership of something! Time is flying by too. Good problem to have, I’ll take it any day.
Small update on things…actual things. At the beginning of August my partner, Ivan, and I traveled up to the big city of Kyiv for an In Service Training or IST. The premise was to discuss methods of volunteerism in Ukraine and how to develop an action plan for a project. Truth be told, myself and many of my peers have had this training and also have working experience with it. The reality is: this whole experience isn’t about us per se, but rather the people we are working with. A very simply way to approach this is to reflect on the Peace Corps as a whole, the first goal is to provide skilled men and women to help people meet a need…pretty sure that means “I should already know how to do something.” Watching ideas click in Ivan’s head was awesome. The coolest part about this is that, as a team, we were to come up with a project idea and work with that throughout the three-day long training. In different rooms and not having discussed it prior, we came back together to discuss our ideas…we both had the exact same idea. He even took the time to write it in English. We did an awkward chest bump/fist bump/high five/man-hug combination and moved on.
What we came up with is not relevant at this point as we have not started to work on it and it is only an idea (however if you are curious, shoot me a message and I can send you a lengthy email with those included). Once we begin making ground on that one, I’ll start to share it. However, I’m pretty sure a good two-year project has been identified and he’s excited about it. The important take away from that is that it sparked the concept of idea generation in Ivan. This is extremely important. One day, we will not be here and our counterparts will be working to continue what we started. Whether it is a tangible “something” or if it is a concept, the point is to teach and show how to work with both. Cue good feelings, everyone reading should say “Aww…”
On to different things. For those who are not aware, Ukraine recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of independence from the Soviet Union. Similar to the United States this is a day long celebration with parades, concerts, and some awesome fireworks – although precariously close to the public by American standards…I’m sure someone would have written a letter about it in the good ‘ol US of A, but here it’s just standard practice. The men’s and women’s traditional dress is beautiful and every time I see it I can’t help but smile and hope there will be a traditional dance accompanying it. Seriously people, if you have never been outside the US and experienced another country’s cultural heritage, I highly suggest you do so. Don’t just watch either, participate if possible…most of the time, people want you to and the gesture is greatly appreciated.
This morning I came in and Ivan couldn’t wait to tell me about an idea that kept him up last night. He said, in English I might add “Last night, I didn’t sleep. Many ideas. I started typing. Look!” I’ll tell you what, this man definitely has some very good ideas. Right now, our list is around seven potential projects. All are related too, which is kind of the point. His newest one though I think is going to take the forefront. Fine by me. It isn’t about what I want to do, it is about what he wants to do…I will be working with him to work on the process of doing these things. Truthfully, everything we have come up with can be completed without my help. Seriously. I mean everyone here is very capable. However, what Ivan and others are looking for are ways to improve what it is that they do. That’s where I come in…going to be a cool ride too. Seriously, watching ideas and concepts click after a few conversations is a rewarding experience.
Final note and cultural share: Received the first care package from home on Friday and it was full of spices, Tobasco, nuts, ranch flavored sunflower seeds, and Red Sox gear courtesy of the one and only Jane Isaac. Thanks mom! I will throw some additional things into a new tab on the blog called “Wish List.” Anything listed there is always welcome! Side note, Ukrainians don’t do spicy…so introducing this to the girls in the office and Ivan was a lot of fun.
A few friends came down this past weekend from all over Eastern and Southern Ukraine. We found an awesome apartment not far from the central square and my favorite beer tent – the owner now has a Red Sox hat. We hung out there both nights with my Ukrainian friends and had a blast. My Ukrainian friends loved everyone who came down and are looking forward to the next time this group of Americans visits our city. Hopefully there will be some additional visitors from the northern and western regions of Ukraine…they know who they are. So things of note: water fights will happen at a beer tent, regardless of how many people are there. The women handle their own battles…email me for more details on that one…and regardless of age or gender, if you want to wear a thong at the beach: Go for it.