Like the great Walt Whitman I am complex and therefore contradict myself more times in a year, a month; hell, a day, than I am comfortable. But these contradictions are more than just minor annoyances, they are learning opportunities. They are the gateway drug to inner change and self-peace. Sure, why not.
I am a Peace Corps Volunteer. By reading that line you will have immediately brought to mind a variety of images of African children, hippies with dreadlocks, AK-47s, elephants, and a group of gangly, underfed children wearing giant smiles on their faces as an American walks amongst them. This is what I pictured when I applied to the Peace Corps. These are the images you see when you google Peace Corps. And if you go to the Peace Corps website you will immediately see the earth tone colors one would associate with Africa or some deserted island. The last time I was on the official Peace Corps page there was a picture of a mud and hay hut standing alone in a prairie.
Instead I ended up in Ukraine. In the privacy of my concrete and rebar apartment, and out in the public streets, I call this place ‘Almost Russia.’ The key difference between Peace Corps anywhere and Peace Corps Ukraine is that in Ukraine the people don’t want us here. In fact here in Ukraine I am constantly moved to the sidelines as Ukrainian teachers and directors show me how to teach their children. The fact that I am hear to teach them American methodologies is not important to them and it is rather insulting that I should try.
Peace Corps goes to a country that invites them. Usually the country is very happy with that. In Ukraine the organization was invited by higher up politicians that want to make a good show of making progress toward joining the European Union. The schools that we teach allow us to come because the government tells them to, that is all. Unlike African countries where the teacher are eager for American methodologies, these teacher do not care. In Africa they have no resources and so a Volunteer must be creative. In Ukraine they have all the resources they need, plus some, but they refuse to use a lot of them because they prefer the more traditional Soviet ways. They teach directly from old, incorrectly translated books and refuse to deviate from a single page.
Ukraine is a nation that embraces internet hacking, movie and music piracy, and drinking vodka at all times of the day. And they think spending money on more accurate information is a waste of time. Right, ok, well – sure?