Monday, August 31, 2009

Spontaneous Conjunction: One Day at a Time

Sharing Florida postcards at camp's end

Ukrainians don't usually make big plans far in advance. It's one day at a time. They say you can't tell what tomorrow might bring. They've experiened too many promises made and broken. Relationships are much more important than plans and schedules. This can be a challenge to goal-oriented, task-driven Americans who just want to get things done. But here, it's important to get to know each other first, to take time, to gain trust, to share meals and have many cups of tea together.

Ukrainians have experienced the devastation of war. Over 20,000,000 killed in Russia and Ukraine during World War II; no family left untouched. Scorched earth; everything, everyone, lost. We Americans can hardly fathom it. Ukrainians have been victims of enforced starvation; they remember the "Holomodor" of the 1930s. The Tartars of Crimea were brutally, suddenly, evicted from their homes and forced to migrate. Many fled to Turkey. Some are just now returning to their ancestral homes in Crimea. You never know what tomorrow might bring.

During the first week at Camp Sosnovy, the program director, Iryna, made a schedule for me to speak to the boys and girls. Groups 1,2,3 on Mondays, starting at 10:00 a.m., and so on. I dutifully followed the schedule, or tried to. It didn't take me long to learn that this was flexibile scheduling. One group had to meet with the doctor at that time; another was practicing for an upcoming performance; another had a football (soccer) game. Okay. I see. No problem.

So it was that in addition to scheduled meetings, I started meeting with the kids whenever a group of them was gathered together--in the lounge, outside, on benches, in the sandbox, around the playing field. I'd come with my dictionary and maps and sit with the kids. I walked around with a globe. I showed family photos, took out my camera. I pulled games out of my pocket. I brought my computer, a big hit.

I called it spontaneous conjunction! It worked. The kids liked "surprises" and had fun. The camp counselors saw I could be flexible and trusted to fill in the gaps. It made for good relations all the way around. One day at a time.

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