Tuesday, February 1, 2011
My answer is yes
I’m beginning to realize that I’m never going to have a completely normal week in Ukraine. Maybe this is a realization that comes with growing up and becoming an adult. Nothing is ever completely calm; something always gets in the way of the best laid plans. But, I do feel that this is particularly true in Ukraine.
Last week, the French teacher at my school was gone for two days at a conference in Lviv. In case you’re wondering, the idea of a substitute teacher does not exist in the Ukrainian school system. Instead other teachers step in for the absent one, or the kids get shoved into a different class for the lesson, or they just don’t have class.
Mid way though my first lesson last Wednesday, Yaroslava Michalivna walked into my room and said, “Sasha, Luibov Pavlina (our school director) needs to speak with you. You may go to her after the lesson has finished.” I knew that Oksana was gone, and I knew that what my director was going to ask was if I could sub for her lessons.
–Now for a short aside: Since coming to Ukraine, my French has gone completely down hill. During the three months I spent in training I was force fed Ukrainian verb tenses; nouns, noun-cases, verbs, adjectives, and entire phrases were shoved down my throat. This resulted in French being all but squeezed out of my over-worked, exhausted little brain.–
During the 15 minute break in between classes, I met with Luibov Pavlina and was told that instead of teaching my English classes, I must take over the French ones. So instead of teaching all the classes I had already made lesson plans for on Wednesday and Thursday, I instead taught someone else’s French classes.
It was the most ridiculous mish-mash of language. We’d start in French, get caught in a short downpour of Ukrainian, and end up swimming in a pool of English. It was kind of fun, conducting these lessons that were a storm of all the languages we could think of. I’m not sure how beneficial it was for the kids, but I think they still enjoyed it. At the end of classes I think they were impressed with themselves, that they could sit though a class and understand it being conducted in three different languages.
I look back on this incident now and smile. It’s the kind of thing that the Peace Corps advertises–you get thrown into things, and you’re forced to sink or swim. It’s the kind of thing makes a good story, that you laugh at later. But in the moment it’s nerve wreaking, annoying, and not at all a piece of cake.
And the thing is, it’s not at all a one time event. Just today, one of my classes was double scheduled (the kids were supposed to be in two classes at once), in another half the kids were pulled out half way through class to practice for a concert Saturday, and in yet another class only 4 students were present, instead of the twenty I was expecting.
All these changes, these misunderstandings, these clashes of cultures, these interruptions, these unexpected happenings don’t stop. There is something new every day. And because of it I’ve realized something. I’ve realized that you don’t say “yes” to the Peace Corps just once as you hand in your application. Instead, every single day is an affirmation. Every single moment is you shouting loudly, “Yes! I still want to be here.” Every single minute is a learning opportunity, every single second is a challenge. And you can either run away, or you can face it, get through it, and shout with as much passion and strength as you can gather, “I can do this.”
Maybe in the moment it’s a lie, and at that instant, even you don’t believe in yourself. But you just repeat it. And by the end of the day, you realize that you could do it. That you’ve done it. That you survived, and that you are stronger than even you thought.
And maybe, really, thats just life. Every day, all your life long, you’re screaming “yes, I can do this. I can get through this.” The Peace Corps just amplifies it.
Anyways, what’s life without a challenge? Well, boring. And who wants that? Not me. So bring on the challenges, the mixed up schedules, the broken heater, the freezing winter, the water-less faucets. My answer is still yes. Yes, I can do this. Yes, I want to be here. Yes, I love Ukraine.