Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Life After All

I've changed my blog title and look.  I'm experimenting. But it's still all about all of life, after all!

When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine, 2009-11, I called my blog: “fran-ukrainian-adventure.”  That’s when I started blogging, to let friends and loved ones know what I was doing in a little village called Starobelsk in far-eastern Ukraine, that Russian-speaking far-away place. I wrote 229 blogs about my daily life in a beautiful country the size of Nebraska that was struggling to find its own post-Soviet identity.  I wrote about the projects I worked on and the people I worked with, about my travels and discoveries, the Ukrainian people, culture, cuisine, and traditions. I was completely out of my comfort zone for two years, and I had never felt better about what I was doing!  A dream fulfilled.  It was a transformative experience, one I enjoyed sharing and shall never forget. I copied my last PC blog below.     

When I returned from Ukraine in April 2011, I called my blog “Life after Peace Corps.”  Before and after Peace Corps became a divide, a borderland between the past and the present.  It was a tough transition back to a more normal way and pace of life.  I was back in my comfort zone, but not feeling all that comfortable.  Like all adventures, however, this new chapter has proven to be exciting and worthwhile.  I  sold my condo in St. Petersburg and moved from Florida to Sylvania, Ohio, to be closer to my daughters Elissa and Michelle and their kids.  And it's been fantastic. The best decision I could have made, to come full circle to the place I raised my children and to be with them as they raise their children, my precious grandkids.  I've written 248 blogs about this post-Peace Corps chapter, an ongoing saga moving across the continuum of time. 

Now, almost two years since I returned from Ukraine and moved to Sylvania, I'm moving on again, not geographically but figuratively speaking.  Hard to believe.  Tempus fugit, I remember from Latin.  Time flies. Times change. Life changes.  So I've decided to change the title of my blog to simply: “Life After All.”  I’m writing about all of life's experiences, before and after Peace Corps, about how the past looks from the now, how the present is unfolding, and how it might look in the future.  All of life.  

I love writing and thinking about our times, about history, culture and politics, about family, community and place.  I like playing with ideas, and making new connections between the past and the present. That's what I'll continue to do. Just because I like to write.  it’s life, after all! 


FRIDAY, APRIL 15, 2011

What Peace Corps Means to Me: My Final PCV Blog

This is my final PCV blog. My Ukrainian adventure has come to an end, but not my Ukrainian experience, my stories, my memories. They will always be with me. They are a part of who I am. Now a new American adventure begins, and a new blog, "Life After Peace Corps.” I look forward to sharing more adventures on the journey we all share.

Life Inspired, A Life of Purpose: The Peace Corps Experience

When I began work at the public library in Starobelsk, a Russian-speaking village of about 18,000 in far-eastern Lugansk Oblast, Ukraine, I had a minor run-in with a librarian who thought all Americans were ignorant and arrogant. He went on for quite a while, to the embarrassment of the director, but I smiled and said I understood and it was okay. He ranted while I nodded amiably. It helped that I understood only every other word or so!

Near the end of my service, this librarian came up to me to say how much he has liked seeing me work with the Library. The English Club and the English-book collection have brought more people and new energy to the library, he said. He admitted, a bit sheepishly, that he had a bad view of Americans for a long time, especially while growing up, but now he sees we can be friends. I was the first American he had ever met. I responded with a big smile. “I am so glad we got to know each other!”

This is the essence of the Peace Corps experience. When we began our Peace Corps journey, many of us Community Development (CD) PCVs thought that using our skills and experiences in support of Ukrainian NGOs was the top priority, the number 1 goal. We were in Ukraine to be useful, to do good work, to transfer our skills. We embraced this goal with enthusiasm.

Now I think that the two other Peace Corps goals are equally important: getting to know a country and its people, and their getting to know us and America. On this level the Peace Corps experience is about modeling and mentoring good will, optimism, a “can-do” spirit, a positive but flexible attitude. It is about modeling how change can take place and mentoring some ways of achieving goals, one step at a time, from the bottom up.

What does this mean? For me it meant working with an NGO to address human rights abuses through a “Know Your Rights!”civic education project. It meant having fun with kids at a summer Camp, walking around with a globe, maps, and a dictionary, ever-ready to connect and instruct. It involved discussing history, poetry, folk traditions and holidays at English Club meetings. It meant engaging members in hands-on projects like making peace cranes, origami pumpkins, Halloween masks, holiday trees and cultural maps. It meant helping an artist write a cultural preservation grant to preserve the decorative paintings of the ancient Lugansk region. It involved attending seminars of the spoken word, celebrating the publication of a book, honoring local poets and local talents from the past and the present. It encompassed leading literature discussion seminars with English classes at the University, exploring American short stories by Jack London, Mark Twain, Kate Chopin, and Thomas Wolff.

Through all these activities, it was the connections that mattered most. The Peace Corps experience is about building bridges across cultures, and of course it's true: once a human connection is made, it's hard to sever. It feels good to connect on the level of human kindness, on a level that transcends differences. It’s wonderful to be a part of the daily life of a village: enjoying meals, many meals, and toasting to good health and good fortune; celebrating birthdays and holidays, and there are many in Ukraine; visiting a friend’s farm; attending programs at local schools and cultural centers; biking along village paths to go pick apples in fall; swimming in the river in summer, or relaxing on its tree-lined banks; joining friends on a vacation in Berdyansk on the Sea of Azov; traveling around the country; meeting friends like the incomparable Stefa and Bogdan in Lviv; and having tea, many cups of tea, in homes and cafes, getting acquainted, practicing a new language, developing trust and bonds of friendship.

All these activities, big and small, personal, work-related and social, inspire and energize the spirit, feed the soul. They strenghthen the foundation of grassoots change. They create brand new networks among people and organizations in the same village who had not connected before. They build lasting friendships. This was the essence of my Peace Corps experience for two years in the wonderful town of Starobelsk, Ukraine. I will always remember. Я буду всегда помнить.

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