So this blog was written yesterday, and therefore requires a preface, because two points I made in the first paragraph were sharply contradicted by life today. First of all, I’ll begin by stating that Spring is not here, never was here, and never will be here. Any semblance of what I thought was spring, was winter being deceptive and petty. I felt like my brain froze on my walk to school today; I hate it when that happens. Oh, and tonight when I was trying to practice the piano, I was accosted by about fifteen members of the music school over the course of forty minutes; they forced me to eat food, dance, and kiss a bunch of women to congratulate them for Women’s Day. I tossed the vodka anywhere but my throat (I just wasn’t in the mood ya know, I mean six o’clock on a Thursday and all), which helped me avoid the occasional inebriated celebrant who tried to make my cheek kiss something a little more substantial.
So here’s the pre-Thursday blog:
“Ahhhh, I think I can say that I’ve made it till spring. Even though spring is still unimaginable given the temperature and amount of snow on the ground, the first days of March call for celebration. So that means that I’ll go out and… put an extra spoonful of sugar in my tea, or maybe put butter on cookies instead of on bread. I know, a little crazy, but I guess it’s apt given my lack of partying and my new habit of being called chubby. With spring comes dogs, and as the temperature has stabilized around 0 F lately, our dirty feral population have all crawled out of their dens, and are flexing their muscle on Sergeyevka’s corners. Usually problems regarding non-American canines are funny, but I had a moment the other day that scared the shit out of me.”
On Friday morning, I was having tea between classes and telling my counterpart how well my Thursday evening club went. Although my male attendance is dismal, my 7-11th grade club now boasts 10-12 regular students, and we’ve evolved from watching movies to conversation. So as I was bragging about my club, Natalia interrupted me to tell me that one of my students was bitten by a dog on her way home after club was finished. It took the breath out of me, even more when I heard it was the tiniest and sweetest girl in my seventh grade class. I felt, and still feel like absolute shit about it, because although it’s not dark when my class gets out, it’s nearing dusk, and I worry that time of day could have played a role. I heard she was recovering at home, and walked over to her house on Saturday with another one of my students.
We climbed up the creaky wooden steps leading up to Saule’s house and were ushered inside by her fourth grade sister. I was blown away. After I lamely offered my candy bar and expressed my well-wishes, she insisted on serving me tea and cakes. So as the girl who’s recovering from a dog bite forces me to sit down as she prepares food, the seventh grade girl who walked me there navigated the situation better than most adults, smoothing over awkward moments, and holding the baby who couldn’t stop staring at the strange foreigner. At the risk of sounding corny, I’ll just say that the tenacity and maturity of those two girls was kind of jaw-dropping. When I told her that I would be glad to walk her home from club in the future, she looked at me fiercely and told me that she was “not afraid”; and I believe her. The longer I go through life, the more it seems that women have an inner resolve that men lack. Anyhow, it was a powerful moment, and she returned to class on Tuesday like nothing had happened.
On a slightly funnier note however, I’ve reached a new low. My host-sister looked over at me tonight and said that having me here is like having a younger brother, a twelve year-old to be exact. Let me clarify, a seventeen year-old girl told me that I act like I’m twelve. But presumably to make me feel better, she told me that I look like I’m nineteen . Sweet. I’m supposed to be a quasi-ambassador for the United States of America, and I look like I’m nineteen and act like I’m twelve. I wonder how my Peace Corps bosses who came to visit this week feel about that.
Before I elaborate on the visit, I’m reminded of another bone I have to pick with…everybody. The first thing that my regional manager said to me when she saw me was “Oh my Collin, you’ve gotten fat!” Now I’m not quite sure if “fat” is the correct translation, because what she said in Russian was “big.” I know that I haven’t gotten taller, and big in America is a euphemism for fat, and so A plus B equals… Anyways, there’s got to be something to it, because she’s now the fourth person in the last two weeks to say that, the third being my favorite host-sister who discussed it with her friend and then laughingly told me I was bigger than when I came, and closer to fulfilling my goal of having a belly to balance a beer can on. I don’t think I’m “big”, but maybe it’s like the question of whether crazy people can know that their crazy. Can male Peace Corps volunteers know if their fat, or does Fabio continue to look back at them from mirrors that they can’t help but gaze into. Either way, at least I’m staying warm.
Onto my site visit. My regional manager and another Peace Corps bigwig graced Sergeyevka with their presence this week in order to check up on me and to look into placing another volunteer here in November (Evidently this site is too far away for one volunteer, but they wanted a guinea pig to pave the way). Although my counterpart, director, and evidently the governor and head of the education department were all tweaking out hardcore, I just saw the visit as an opportunity to voice some issues (aka beg for more money). Anyways, the last thing I wanted was to put on a show, but it just so happened that I was out of clean ironed shirts the night before, and had to iron my clothes for the first time in a couple of weeks. I knew what was coming, and five minutes after I began ironing, I heard my host-dad giggle snarkily from the kitchen. He asked me if I was preparing for tomorrow’s theater, and I inwardly groaned. I’ve railed on performances that I’ve had to attend in the past, and I knew that he’d get on me when Peace Corps came. It would have been a hard sell in English to explain that it was just a coincidence that I ran out of ironed shirts the night before my bosses came, and I knew that I wouldn’t come close in Russian. I didn’t engage it, but I left my room a mess the next day to prove that I wasn’t concerned about putting on a show. Ha ha!
The truth was, like I said before, I was actually looking forward to the visit, because I knew that I’m doing more than expected, and it was an opportunity to ask for an increase in my living stipend. The first three classes of my morning passed without Peace Corps showing up, but they came in escorted by our smiling director right before the fourth period. The director informed us that our fifth period class had been moved up to fourth period for the convenience of our guests, unnecessarily eliminating precious prep time for said class. However, we quickly fashioned a listening lesson that well-received by my bosses, surprising, given that it was my worst class in months. The quality was however, enhanced by my students, who obviously picked up on the “importance” of our visitors and put on their own little show against my will.
The day crawled by, taut with beaurocracy and self-congratulation, and by the time it was done, I had a headache from all of the bullshit. The problem wasn’t with the Peace Corps staff or anyone in the town, it’s just the nature of the visit, and although some people love it, I was just frustrated that it left me no time to practice piano or lesson plan for the following day. So, instead of rehashing the day, I’ll relate my highest and lowest moments, because they’re both important for my future in Sergeyevka. My high came when we visited the Akim (governor of the region), and he was extremely happy with everything that was going on, wanted more volunteers, and had nothing but good things to say. This wasn’t unexpected, but given the tense relationship that Peace Corps often has with local government, it was a relief to know that the most powerful person around wants me to be here and to be happy.
The low came at the very end of the day when we were having tea at my home. Again, everyone was happy, talking about how good everything was, and how they wished that I could stay for two years…Wished? I haven’t really thought about living situations, which in retrospect is pretty dumb, and yesterday found out in an offhand comment that my host family is moving to a different village once the school year ends. My host-sister is going to college, host-brother is on his own, and so the parents are ditching the village at least for the summer. The conundrum that faces me is that I’m at one of the only sites in the entire country where living on my own is virtually not an option do to a lack of gas heating and running water. So, because finding good host-families is a rare and difficult venture, I’m kinda up shit creek. The only plus to the situation is the fact that it was brought up with Peace Corps staff will put a fire under in my counterpart’s belly to help find me a host-family if she want’s to keep me in Sergeyevka.
Oh, and the other positive will be my last point. Our adorable cat “Masha” currently thinks my bedroom is a toilet, which I discovered the other day while doing push ups. It’s really a bummer because my bedroom also serves as my gym, and it gives push ups another unwanted element. The problem though, is that I think Masha is pregnant, and I can’t bear to leave her outside, which is what my host parents think is the only other option. So, I’m shutting the door to my room whenever I can, but when I come home and the neighbor kid or someone else has left it open, I invariably see my friend sheepishly slink out with her tail high and belly swaying.