Living in a fishbowl
When I first arrived in Ukraine, I lived with a host family. For my first 10 weeks here, I did not have many moments alone, and those were mainly found on my walk to and from my language class. When I was at “home,” someone else was always there. When I was in class, I was in a group of people. When I went to Chernihiv, well, duh – crowded buses/marshrutkas. Basically, I was living in a fishbowl. It drove me crazy, as I am a person who sometimes needs “alone time,” to mentally (and physically) recharge. It will get better, I was told, when I get to site. You will be able to come and go freely, I was told.
When I got to site, it did get better (well, for the most part). Because I live in an oblast center, I could walk around with relative anonymity. Until I opened my mouth and started speaking, that is. For some reason, the sound of English seems to echo, and gets the attention of people within a mile radius. Ah well, I figured I was going to stand out, though I am lucky to do so less than the PCVs who are assigned to villages. However, when I was at home, I did have privacy. I was able to have my “down time” away from the crowd, in a quiet space.
However, that is not to say I am not still watched. Something I had to come to terms with a long time ago is that I am always watched. When you live in a dormitory, though as a PCV you can come and go with a great deal of freedom, you are still kept track of. So I come and go, and live my life, knowing that there is always someone who is paying attention to my movements.
And recently, I realized that although I live in an oblast center, in many ways it is a big village. I keep running into people who know people I know, and I often hear that I have been the subject of conversation. Now, for anyone who knows me, you know that I do not particularly like to hear that I have been the subject of conversations – I have been the subject of gossip in the past and try to not invite it now. But I have to deal with it, living in a fishbowl. And it is not to say that people are gossiping when talking about me. I just have had bad experiences in the past with it. But that’s the life of a PCV – no matter where we are living, we tend to stand out, and people talk about us.
It also illustrates how small communities can be, no matter what the size of the city. I mean, two of the people who found me as a common acquintance had no connection at all to each other. One is an English teacher, and in the English club run by a couple of other local PCVs (and where I occasionally visit) and the other is a member of the Rotary club, a bank manager, and a person who was looking to hire an English teacher.
I don’t know all of the English teachers in the city – that would be impossible. I just happen to know this one. Strange coincidence.
So I continue to adjust to life in a fishbowl. As I am exposed to more people, appear on the web site of my NGO, and have articles in the local fashion magazine, I believe more people may recognize me – at least those who read the web site and the magazine. Who knows, maybe I will grow to like the attention!