Friday, July 6, 2012


Everyone’s sweltering, a heatwave rippling across the US from California to the Midwest to Washington, DC, New York City and the mid-Atlantic.  Temperatures over 100F and higher. Some 40 states "sizzling" now, according to the Don’t know if it’s global warning or not, but it seems that it’s unbearably hot everywhere (photo by via flickr).

I remember a heatwave in Ukraine a few years ago, over 100F for days on end one August. Still, life went on and I walked or biked daily around and about the town of Starobelsk. The Aydar river provided some relief, but not much.

It was the August Vera Flyat, director of NGO Victoria, was doing community outreach for the Know Your Rights grant (a Peace Corps Small Projects Assistance Grant with support of USAID).  I dutifully went along to five or so little rural villages without fans or AC (ha!) to talk about "Rule of Law" in sweltering halls, corridors and beer tents, to people who had come to hear Vera and a legal expert talk about Ukrainian citizens' legal rights, get a copy of the new "Know Your Rights" booklet, and see an Amerikanka.      

It was the August I went with a dedicated library committee (Natalia Dohadailo, Laura the librarian, and Julie L) to Lugansk, some two hours away, to buy English- language books for the Library with our Peace Corps Partnership Grant, gifts from many of you included.  We were excited.

We thought we were fortunate that the library provided a car, but boy we were in for a surprise. The darn thing was so old it could barely keep going in the heat, and to make it worse, much worse, the driver had to keep the heater on to keep it going.  That means it was way over 100 F in the car, blowing hot air directly on our legs especially.  I moved around constantly to keep from burning, literally; we all did.  Our two-hour trip became a four-hour plus nightmare. 

But what I remember most of all is that no one said a word.  The driver was silent. No one complained.  We just kept moving around, stopped to get the car going a few times, stopped once for water.  We looked at each other, beads of sweat dripping from our faces, our clothes wet, and said...nothing.  It was a trip from hell, literally and figuratively. 

When I look back on it, I don’t know how we survived.

I think the silence actually helped.

I also think it was knowing that we had just bought some of the best English literature, grammars and children’s books for the library to add to the generous gift of Toledo books.  Thanks to friends in America, we had  created the first English-language book collection open to the public in Starobelsk, Ukraine.  The sacrifice of suffering in the heat was worth the effort, worth the outcome. 

Heatwave.  It’s hard to  keep cool, but that book-buying journey with Ukrainian friends, and the outreach to rural villages with Vera, taught me a huge lesson in surviving the heat.  Breath deeply, think popsicles on your neck, drink as much water as you can, be silent and pretend the heat doesn’t exist. Easier said than done, I know.

But remembering is helping me survive our current heatwave in Sylvania.  It could be worse, I tell myself.  It’s a Peace Corps lesson: things could always be worse.  Just thinking about that can cool you down! 

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