Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cultural Immersion

Here I am in Berdyansk, a resort on the Sea of Azov. As my broither Loren, a historical genius who lives in Tallahassee, Florida, informs me, this is a sacred place for thousands of years, though the city itself dates only to the nineteenth century. He cites Jean Auel's "Clan of the Cave Bears," I think that's the title. I am with Luba, a volunteer with the NGO I am assigned to and at whose house I am staying in Starobilsk. She and five of her women friends, plus two teenaged sons who disappear as soon as we get to our B&B, are on holiday. I am here for a cultural immersion experience and to improve my Russian language.
It's pretty hard not to have fun. The beach is great, crowded as a marshruka in Chernigov (see for more on the marshruka experience), but everyione finds their own space. The water is warm but not too warm, with a sandy bottom and gentle waves to play in for hours. The women are funny, talented, brilliant. They especially enjoy my ineptness in their language, which sounds so beautiful, so lyrical, when they speak it. I hang in there, relying as much on pantomime as the language itself.. It's especially frustrating when I know they are talking politics, and I cannot join in. I am understanding more of what I hear, and it motivates me to keep at my Russian lessons.
But is a PCV supposed to be having this much fun? I'm beginning to feel guilty. I need to remind myself that this is cross-cultural learning at its best. Also, I'll be doing some grantwriting for the huamn rights NGO. There's the 3-weeks of summer camp in Lyman coming up in August, with the aim of improving healthy lifestyles. I'm working with the biblioteca and some teachers of English in Starobilsk to start an English Club in September. Ever the PCV, I decide to start a new project, the Starobilsk Women's Club, mostly to encompass the wonderful women who are teaching me so much, and finding it enjoyable. I make a sign and bring it out with a dramatic flourish at one of our meals., always a cultural experience. Once the women decipher my attempt at Russian, they burst out laughing. We are still laughing. We are all in this cultural immersion experience together!

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