(All opinions and descriptions of life in Ukraine contained herein are mine. I do not, nor am I qualified to,
express the official opinions of the Peace Corps or the U.S. Government.)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The honest truth

I just read a blog of another PCV in Ethiopa who is extremely similar to me in a lot of respects. He is someone who lives in the land of "superlatives" and only sees the greater scheme of things, not the realities a lot of times.

Well that Blog inspired me to write one of my own. Titled: The honest truth, because I think the truth is a lot more important than a bunch of manufactured "EVERYTHING IS SUPER" all the time mentality that I tend to subscribe to on certain days. I got some criticism from other volunteers in the beginning of service for my blog being too "damn positive", and I want to say to those volunteers, YOU WERE RIGHT. I was too positive, mainly because I wanted to only focus on the positives. But here I am now, and I want to change that, not for them, but for myself. Because only in this way will I be able to fully comprehend what i've achieved in the past year and a half.

Furthermore, i'm writing this blog because like the PCV in Ethiopa, I want to expose my family, friends and prospective PCV's who read my blog to the honest truth of becoming a volunteer in the Peace Corps, and the many challenges that are imposed on us while we strive to do our best in a foreign land for 27 months.

First of all, for me personally, I have been struggling constantly with health issues. For me it's manifiested as indigestion. The food will be a problem no matter where you go I think. Different recipes and ingredients for things that you've never tasted. For me, it's been dairy. I can't digest dairy for the life of me, and Ukrainian food is saturated with it. So aside from having a runny nose as a side affect, i've had to take insane doses of Imodium and Lactaid to cope with this issue.

Next, the language. I think the language for me has been the one single most frustrating aspect of living here. Not being able to properly communicate your thoughts in a clear/coherent way is something that can really get under your skin. I usually nod or smile when I have no idea how to respond to something, or to what something means.

Also, this past winter has been brutal. The climate where I live is generally better than the rest of Ukraine, but this winter Ukraine and Eastern Europe in general got owned by winter. It's been about -10 c on average for the past 3 months. Thank god it's finally warming up to a balmy -1. However, this means sitting at home doing almost nothing other than reading writing, and throwing a tennis ball at the wall, while over hearing your neighbors scream at each other for hours, remodel there apartment, and then have really loud sex on top of you... I guess it's more fascinating now that I type it out than I thought before.

Alcohol. Alcohol is a huge problem here. It's sad, but you don't find many people who think that Alcohol has a negative affect on their society. It's not that EVERYONE drinks themselves to death, it's just that a majority of men do, and it reflects poorly on my gender. Everyone just assumes I drink copious amounts of alcohol, and when I go out with friends, it's usually just a drink fest. Not that it's much different in U.S., I think here it's just that men have a much more negative connotation with being drunkards, and I feel sorry for the Ukrainian woman for having to deal with it.

Additionally, I miss my family. I miss my friends. I constantly think about what they are doing. How I could be having fun with them. But how i'm not there. It's hard. It's really hard. 

Communication in general is a basic issue as well, even in English. Different ideologies, and world philosophies clash culturally, and over time i've realized that I don't really understand the way that my host country sees the world. I also often ponder if i'm enough for my community, my school, my colleagues. Sometimes I wonder, do my students actually listen to me, or do they see me as a talking bobble-head with empty words. Who is this American? What does he want from us? Why is he here? Why isn't he making any money? I get all these questions directly most of the time, so it's not really of a wondering, it's more of a rhetorical thought-process.

However, don't let all these hardships think that I don't have a lot of positives going for me over here. I do. I just haven't ever talked about what is hard. I think a lot of people see the romantic side of the Peace Corps and just hear, "oh yeah, it's hard too" on the side. It's the opposite. There are a lot of small brilliant moments over here that I will remember for an eternity, but most of the time, i'm sitting facing my lap-top writing, playing games, or watching copious amounts of "the office". 

The truth is: Peace Corps is hard. It's one of the hardest things i've had to do in my life. It's challenging. It's frustrating. It's agonizing at times. But the crazy thing, IT'S 100% WORTH IT FOR ME.

There are so many small rewards that are manifested in so many different ways.

For example, one of my 4B students comes up to me other day and tells me, "Only because of you do I now know how to read and write in English". My students made a photo exhibition in school and my director comes up to me and tells me "They are beautiful, thank you for this". My counterpart smiles ear-to-ear every day I walk into class. I feel her love. My school writes me a poem on mens day saying "Next to Nitai, the children are at peace". My students constantly tell me that they will be sad when I leave. 

I have never once felt the need to think that I want to go home. Yes I miss it, but every challenge I face I know that I'm growing, maturing, becoming a better person. These challenges make you feel like you can do ANYTHING after you are done with your service. To me, this is why I deal every day with these fears, these illnesses, these mental battles. 

I'm a fortunate human being, and I live in a wonderful apartment in a wonderful town in Ukraine. I have the best counterpart/friend I could have ever asked for before I was invited. But even with all these fortunes, PC is STILL insanely hard. Remember, this is coming from someone who loves to romanticize life and treat positives like it's candy.

So to conclude this ramble of emotionally charged blogging, I would like to leave you all with a piece of advice i've gained throughout my time here:

I think it's important to realize that with every hardship there is an equal success to follow. It might not manifest itself in the way you expect it to, but know that without pain and suffering there is no growth. 

So to all of my friends and family, thank you so much for your constant words of support and hours and hours of skype chats. 

And for all of you who are considering joining the Peace Corps, consider this: 

Do you want to grow as a human? 

Do you want to face some of the hardest conditions you have faced in your life? 

Do you want to come back with a plethora of life experiences that you will cherish forever?

If you want all of the above, and only all of the above, I whole-heartedly recommend joining. Otherwise, go travel, go have fun, go do something else that will occupy less of yourself because when you decide to do this, your whole heart needs to be in it or else you will suffer for 27 months.

Keep searching for the truth, and the truth will find you.

Love you all,