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September 5, 2011

With the beginning of the school year, fall has officially arrived in Ukraine. In theory, my work schedule should not depend on the school year but because I do guest lectures at a university (soon to be two) and a local college, I find that my work schedule was much lighter during the summer (hence the reason I did some traveling). Of course, after taking time off, most people experience a sort of slump, but then are usually, because they are rejuvenated, able to jump right back into things.

I am finding this to be more of a challenge lately, and am trying to figure out why. Is it because I know that soon I will be putting a lot of focus on what will happen after my Peace Corps service has ended? Is it because, after 17 months in this country, I still get frustrated because I often do not know what is going on around me, due to my frustratingly low language ability? Or because I still cannot express myself the way that I want to?

On Saturday, I had the good fortune to be included in a picnic – a shashlik trip outside of Kiev. I met some nice people and did a great deal of listening, until one of them asked why I was “ignoring” them. After that, the conversation turned more to questions – asking me about things, most of which I cannot be entirely honest about. Not that I lie or want to lie, but in my role as a PCV, I cannot always tell people everything that I think, or what frustrates me, because it is just not a great idea when I cannot provide the proper context, and certainly I do not want to be seen as criticizing this country. One of the people was asking me questions in Ukrainian (a bit of an added challenge, as my Ukrainian is a bit rusty from non-use) and was not happy with the answers I was providing, so she kept asking more questions.

Now, the communication challenge was not entirely one-sided. R was with me and told me that he was also having a hard time understanding what she was trying to get at. Still, I felt as if once again I was severely lacking in ability to have an adult conversation. Then another person asked me the dreaded question regarding race relations in the U.S. How can I explain, in Russian, the history we have, especially surrounding a specific word? Sadly, I still cannot. So even though I met some nice people, I left feeling a bit as if I had been interrogated and that my answers were not satisfactory.

My language slump seems to have extended to work as well. I feel a bit as if I do not know what to do next – not a comfortable feeling, that is for sure. So I am trying to think of more ways to be effective and to enhance what I do.

I do not know if it is a good thing or a bad thing, but since I am here, I am here and while I am looking for ways to expand what I do and to enhance what I do, I am not looking for ways to change what I do. Sometimes that is all I can hold on to – that I am still trying, even when I have bad days, or even when it feels like I am not making a difference. I wait for the next sign, so to speak – the next indicator that what I am doing does matter after all. Or the next thing that will tell me that I am actually making progress with the language. Sometimes hope is all I have…but at least I still have that.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Mom permalink
    September 5, 2011 8:21 pm

    I feel that a question about “race relations” anywhere in the world is inflammatory. Russia, Ukraine, or anywhere else. The history of human relations is difficult at best. And as to “race,” what does that mean, exactly? History is history. It all had a beginning and a reason (power/profit) and subsequent generations are left to sort it all out. You don’t have to try to answer such questions. R was right–what was her purpose in asking? She was being rude and in any language it doesn’t require an answer.

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