The past 14 days have been eye-opening to say the least. If I had to describe the past two weeks, I would liken them to an “Emotional Roller Coaster.” However, not in the typical sense – I’m not a basket case of emotional turmoil. In fact, that’s not correct, I’d say more of a pendulum – something that eventually comes to rest in the middle of two extremes. What am I talking about? Perhaps I should stop trying to make ridiculous analogies and simply get to the point.
I have finally started the Eastern Rinok project trainings in Zap with the help of an awesome Ukrainian trainer, Susanna. We have had two interactive and successful trainings (out of five) and will be holding our third after the two weeks worth of holidays early May brings to Ukraine. I mention this not to plug Eastern Rinok, instead I’d like to share something: the contents of an email I received after our first training.
First, a little background to set the scene…
At the beginning of the first training, I spoke to the women in attendance in Russian. I introduced myself, Peace Corps, what I was doing here, how long I had been in the country, that I would be staying longer, and why I thought they would benefit from these trainings. I honestly don’t even remember exactly what I said or how I said it. I do, however, remember that none of them had to say “Что он сказал?” (“What did he say?”) Trust me…just that is a victory.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had never spoken in Russian at length around Susanna, a woman I do a lot of secondary work with. About halfway through my “speech” she giggled and I looked over to ask her if it was my accent or if I had said anything wrong. She responded saying, “No, everything is fine…I honestly don’t know why I’m laughing, sorry!” I explained to her afterwards why I asked. I told her that many times, when volunteers speak, we get discouraged/self-conscious when someone starts giggling or laughing.
The following is her email to me that night. She expressed something that I can’t even begin to put words to – just how much hearing/reading that means to me. Her explanation was very heartfelt, but is probably the biggest compliment I’ve received while being in Ukraine. I’ve shared with this some head quarter staff members…they agreed with my sentiments.
Here’s her email:
Honestly, I came home and felt that’s there is one thing I felt not very good about…
During training I made an emphasis that I really liked the way you speak Russian (cause it’s really true) and it’s not because smth is wrong but because I felt some new personality in you (do not ask how it could be…it just happened) It’s like one second ago you are an American when you speak English…and when you started to speak Russian…you are not an American at all…and not because of another language you started to use but the way you speak was so Russian…so typical spoken language and with some another spirit…and it’s like to read the big story behind this.
I know some British and American people who spent much time in Slavic countries… (1..2..3. years…and those who are just travelers) and I cannot explain.. but those who loved our Slavic culture…knew it deeper and afterwards some years later I can recognize some parts of our spirit and vibrations in them. They are not already Americans, British people or citizens of other English speaking countries…and for sure they are not Ukrainians or Russians…but smth has changed deeply…and we understand each other on another level…and better…and we are higher than our cultures…we are HUMAN BEINGS experienced both sides of some reality…and it’s only some small part of existing in this world.
That’s what I liked when you started to speak…you were with us…and not because of the language…but because of some experience you had here, because of smth you accepted and liked from this experience and because of your inner wish to share)))
So thank you for this and I really feel sorry if my words made you feel uncomfortable.
I’m glad for our meeting.. and to have your support
Now, simply reading those words might not make a lot of sense for one who has not served as a Peace Corps Volunteer. One of the things we strive hard to do is integrate into our community, to adapt to the point where we things are not as “foreign” as they once were. Part of the Peace Corps mission is a better understanding of each other’s cultures…an understanding that while differences exist, they too are what makes the experience so enriching, beautiful, and endearing. The fact that a Ukrainian took the time to mention that, when I was speaking her language, she saw that connection – viewed me “as one of us” – those words I will never ever forget.
Peace Corps service is like playing golf for most people: You stand over the ball, you know exactly where you want to hit, you prepare, maybe switch clubs, adjust for wind/hills/etc., then you take your swing – most often not the desired result. However, every once in a while you hit a shot perfectly, play a hole exactly how you wanted to…and it keeps you coming back. This is mine. This is why I’m staying. This is why I am doing what I’m doing. This type of impact is why I’m not ready to leave…