times are a changin’. and i don’t just mean the end of winter and the beginning of spring (even though it’s still snowing), the loss of whitney huston, justin beiber reaching legal age, or even the return of my bangs. it’s march 2012 which officially marks one year my fellow group 41 volunteers and i have been in ukraine. so much has happened over the last year that it seems like it’s been longer than that, and now the next few months will bring even more change, but positive change at that i believe.
last week, as some of you may already know, it was decided that after a struggle of a year at school, it’s time for me to move sites. this hasn’t all happened overnight, though the peace corps very unusually made the decision the same day i proposed a site transfer. a lot has lead up to me finally making a call and acting upon a site transfer request. all of which certainly hasn’t been easy.
as they say, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. and i say, sometimes it’s better not to know what’s on the other side of the fence. visiting several pcv friends at their sites and their schools always left me with site envy and dread for going back to mine. so maybe i would be happier here if i never even knew how things could be better. if i never saw what a conditions could make my site better. but with the cold hard facts that, against peace corps policy, i’ve been working without a counterpart or an english teacher at school, the difficulties at my site are hard to ignore. i don’t blame the school, things happen in life and situations change, but i made the decision that rather than struggling to be satisfied with the bare minimum work i do here for the next 15 months, i needed to make a change.
of course part of me feels guilty, like a bad volunteer, for leaving. guilty for my students (the handful that care about english), guilty for my co-workers, guilty for my neighbors who have so wonderfully adopted me as a part of their family. but i’ve tried so patiently, and maybe a little too patiently, to make things work here. my regional manager was somewhat surprised when i finally got the guts to ask about a site transfer, saying he expected it from me months ago, but not at this point. and i agreed. i probably should have acted upon it back when i was teaching 22 hours a week by myself. but i’m a stubborn lady and was determined to make the best of things. my optimism may have blinded me a little to how much the situation isn’t nearly ideal and that maybe it was time to move on. but i slowly came to that realization that while i am, in fact, here to serve my community, my school, and in a way my country, i’m also devoting time to this in my life that i’ve dreamed about for years, so it’s okay to make sure i’m getting what i need out of this experience as well.
this whole knew revelation all sort of started when i was in my kitchen listening to hall & oates on my laptop packaging my homemade peanut butter cups in their silicone forms with cellophane and ribbon for a volunteer cocktail party was to attend over the weekend, that i stopped and thought ‘who AM I???!’. not that i was taken back by my choice in music (hall & oates 4 life!), or the fact that i’d taken the time to make peanut butter cups, or even packaged each one with care and 15 minutes of my time…it was the fact that i just remembered that i’m supposed to be in peace corps.
and when you’re supposed to be in the peace corps you shouldn’t be doing things like going martha extreme, devote the time to do that, let alone even HAVE silicone baking cups (though they were my best find and purchase). but there you have it. i’m a peace corps volunteer and rather than living in a hut in the sahara, cooking bugs over a fire — i bake with silicone.
every month or so my ‘i’m still not in africa’ guilt builds up like the smelly food in my fridge and needs to be purged in a one-saturday-afternoon cleaning. but this time it wasn’t so much about longing for a ‘true’ peace corps experience, or baking with an outdoor solar oven, it was more about the fact that i’m a year into my service and i really feel like i haven’t done much.
maybe it’s the overachiever in me talking (and somehow compensating for that with ridiculous homemade treats), but i just feel like i really haven’t been able to do much at my site. i’ve certainly taught my share of classes, worked at camps, and dedicated my time (and sanity) to my kids. but i still want to do more. as a TEFL (and YD) volunteer, it’s hard to measure your results. you can’t actually see that you’ve done anything the way you often can if you work in business or agriculture. but with serious lack of interest from my students, no english faculty for collaboration, or secondary projects/organizations to get involved with, it’s hard not to feel like i’m not doing much.
i think i was also somewhat pushed (literally) over the edge when my classroom situation got out of control last week. as pcv we’re legally not allowed to be in a classroom alone, because as americans we cannot be held responsible for ukrainian students. though, with lacking faculty at my school, it’s usually a solo show for me. the incident happened one class period before i was to catch a bus to visit becca’s site. it was an accident, i just happend to be standing next to the boy a girl ran over to choke in my 11th form class. she tripped and fell, head first into my bussom. you know, totally normal class stuff. but not having any english speaking teachers to fully explain it to was frustrating. so it all left me a little shaken, frustrated, and so glad i had an escape for the weekend.
becca’s site was a whole ‘nother world. probably one i should have never found out existed. her apartment living (far away from school children), english specialized school with 18 english teachers, behaving students, and amazing textbooks simply blew my mind. a weekend of mexican/indian/sushi, a snowball fight with some random kids (though it ended in them flicking us off and stealing becca’s phone), fancy cocktail party, and good friends helped me forget about my site. well…that is until i had 3 hours to kill at the bus station before my 7 hour ride back.
it gave me a lot of time to think about everything. while i realize no site is every perfect, there’s always positives and negatives to each (and mine is not excluded from this, it’s not all negatives). but if my site could be the leeeeast like becca’s, or megan’s, or michael’s, i think i’d be in a much better place. i came to the revelation that no matter how patient i am, things at my site aren’t going to improve the way i need them to and it’s time to move on. peace corps thanked me for my perseverance and work and promised better things to come (ie ukrainian speaking area, apartment living, and multiple english faculty).
but it’s not going to come without a looooooot of difficulties. i’ve lived here for 9 months now and am just NOW feeling like i understand the marshutkas, the trains, my co-workers, my students. so i see why volunteers say it usually takes the first year to figure everything out. so there’s certainly some hesitation to leave all the things i know behind. to move from a place i’ve worked so hard to become a part of.
not to mention that i have to wait to find out where i’ll be moving to, for peace corps to inform my school a few days before i leave, the logistics of moving all my stuff!, and having to address my students and co-workers. especially my neighbors, who are already planning a birthday party for me next month and cried when i returned from christmas break and promised me i could help milk their cow (i honestly think i’m MOST disappointed about this). but i’ve done it once before, and this time i’ll start over knowing a little bit more about ukraine, the language, school system, and myself, so i’m confident i can do it again.
for now i have to enjoy the rest of my time here, pretend like nothing has changed, and go about my business as usual until peace corps makes the announcement to my school. so in my usual village business i celebrated my little neighbor’s birthday (where i was treated to a salad made with pig balls YUM) and continue purchasing silly things at the small store here like scented ‘WONDERFUL AROMA’ spiderman stickers and ‘naked woman with cobra’ embroidery projects.
also here are my bangs: