Thursday, October 8, 2009

Many Cups of Tea

tea is served The common humanity that unites us.

At least twice a week I have tea with Ukrainians and learn new things, gather more stories. Some are happy stories, some sad, some daily life stories. Recently I had tea with Lena, Anton, Olga and Tonya, and Sergei and his friend Nina.

Lena, a teacher, is upset about an exam held in Lugansk for students interested in a school year in the U.S. PCVs in our oblast distributed flyers about the program to their schools. I did the same in Starobilsk. I didn't get the details but Lena feels her student was not treated well. She wants to write a letter.
Anton, a talented writer, is dealing with the loss of his eyesight. How I wish I could help him with that. He's busy compiling his poems into a book, watched over by his beloved cat Trey. He's a complicated person, with a poet's sensibilities.

Tea with Sergei (blog posting) and Nina, a Ukrainian who lives in America and is here for her annual visit, reveals a painful story. Nina's husband has been in jail in Uzbekistan for ten years, for political activities. She can visit him once a year, which she does, and that's it. Maybe he will be free in a year or two, she says softly. Nina is an educated woman working as a waitress in Spokane, Washington, supporting her four children through school. Life has been one struggle after another for Nina, and it has taken its toll. As my poet friend Anton might say, "sadness lives in her."

Sharing tea with Olga and Tonya is like being with good friends back in America. Through a combination of Russian, English and French we laugh our way through funny happenings and mishaps. Olga is a young retired French teacher. Tonya still teaches English. They tease each other about whose English is worse. Tonya thinks Olga needs a man in her life. Olga agrees! But, she laments, no men meet her standards. Tonya and I suggest French or American men, but Olga blushes and says maybe she is getting too old for that. Tonya breaks into an Edith Piaf love song. She sounds exactly like Piaf. What a great discovery this is! Let's have an evening of songs, I say. "Oui, with vodka," Olga adds.
Many cups of tea with Iryna, the director of the Library, led to the English club. Tea with Natalie led to her grant proposal for a special English course. Tea with Mike helped me with a Peace Corps report. Tea with Asya gives me ideas for teaching English.Never underestimate the power of a cup of tea, as Greg Mortenson tells us in his book Three Cups of Tea, about working for peace in the mountain villages of Pakistan.
In Ukraine, too, it's the fuel that moves mountains and sparks creative energy. It's all about building relationships, making friends, and seeing the common humanity that unites us.

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