My RM came to visit! But what is an RM, you might ask? Peace Corps is organized so that volunteers work on their own but report to a supervisor who works at PC Headquarters in Kyiv. There are different supervisors for each region, and they are known as RMs, or Regional Managers. My RM is Roman, and we the volunteers of Region 4 know that he’s the best regional manager in Ukraine. We also think he’s the most attractive, but that’s beside the point
RMs visit their regions and check on their volunteers once or twice a year, and I got an email from Roman last month saying he was coming to Sokyriany. I put the date on my calendar and then forgot about it, so this week has been crazy trying to prepare for his visit. I told my school Roman was coming, and they thought we should organize a fancy lesson and try to impress him. It’s kind of too late for that at this point, and besides, Roman already knows all about my school, the good and the bad. The main point of his visit to Sokyriany was not to visit my school but to interview the other school in Sokyriany, called the Gymnasium, and see if they were ready to have a volunteer. The Gymnasium applied for a volunteer, and since the new group of trainees will be sent to site in December, Roman needed to do site interviews in our region to see which schools would be receiving new volunteers.
Roman did come to my school, but the purpose was to thank the director and English teachers for their work with Peace Corps, and to affirm that the experience was a positive one for both the Volunteer and the site. Roman gave my counterpart Natalia a certificate of thanks and cooperation, and she told him the only way it could’ve been a better experience was if I stayed. It was a really sweet moment, and it finally felt like she had accepted that I’d be leaving in a month. I think Roman coming made them realize that this is really the end.
Roman and I also had a meeting with my director, which took place in Ukrainian. She said that it had been a good experience, but that I should have come to her with my problems. Whenever she asked me how things were going I would say, “good, thanks!” because even if things weren’t perfect, I was working them out with my colleagues and didn’t want to bother her with the details. I think I was also deterred from going to my director by the language barrier; having problems is hard enough without trying to communicate them in Ukrainian to someone who intimidates you. It was always easier to explain to Olha, who I knew would understand me and try to help.
But this made it harder for my director, because then she would get random calls from Olha, giving her hell when things weren’t as they should be. In Ukrainian, to give someone hell is to give the “bomboli,” and no one does it quite like Olha. I’ve actually felt bad for my director a few times, because I would not want to be on the receiving end of Olha’s wrath. The “bomboli” always produced the desired effect, but I understand that my director would’ve rather me come to her and say how things were going than get a phone call out the blue telling her she’s doing a crap job as the director, not taking care of her volunteer. The director was very gracious at the meeting with Roman though, and said that the children would miss me so much. I think she implied that the children would miss me more than the teachers will, and I’m sure that’s true too
After the meetings we walked outside to where the Range Rover was waiting. One of the best parts of the RM’s visit is that you get spoiled, and one of the ways this happens is through car rides! I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been driven around Sokyriany, and its always when Roman comes to town. We drove to the Gymnasium, with me in the back giving directions. Sokyriany doesn’t seem that big when you can get from one side of town to other in three minutes flat :-/
The director and the teachers were waiting for us in front of the school, and I was surprised by what a production the visit was. They ushered us into the director’s office, where coffee and truffles were waiting, and didn’t waste a moment in telling us how much they wanted a volunteer. Roman said he would see what he could do, and sat down to hammer out the fine details. When a school applies for a volunteer, it is the RM’s job to assess the site’s readiness. Roman asked to see the proposed schedule for the volunteer and asked what their motivation for having a volunteer was. Apparently the Gymnasium had a volunteer five years ago, and they want a volunteer now to help the English teachers improve their English, as well as to teach speaking and pronunciation to the students. The Gymnasium in my town is a specialized school, meaning the students have English lessons every day. They seemed much more on top of things than my school, and all the teachers I met were so incredibly excited about getting a volunteer.
Another important aspect of getting a volunteer is housing; Roman asked if the Gymnasium had found a place for the volunteer to live, and the director informed us that a host family was ready and eager to house a volunteer, so long as the volunteer was a Christian. Roman explained that Peace Corps only guarantees an American; color, gender, and religion are not taken into consideration when sites are assigned. Roman asked me to explain my housing situation to the director and teachers, and I felt a bit nervous to explain it all in Ukrainian. But I took a deep breath and related my housing saga in Sokyriany; how I started out living with a host family and since then have gone through a series of four apartments in less than two years. I explained that most Americans have lived on their own since college, so living with a Ukrainian family that speaks no English makes adjusting to life in Ukraine an even bigger challenge. You never get any time to truly relax, because you’re always mentally preparing for interactions in Ukrainian with the family. I explained that my own personal happiness increased dramatically when I got my own place, because I could eat, sleep, cook, (or not cook) whenever I wanted and didn’t have to explain it to anyone.
As I talked about my recent apartment, I realized it would soon be empty; I’m leaving in November and the new volunteer (if the Gymnasium gets one), would arrive in December. I offered to speak with my landlord about another volunteer renting the apartment, and the Gymnasium was thrilled. Roman asked if the Gymnasium would be willing to pay part of the Volunteer’s rent each month, because the Peace Corps budget has been cut and this group of Volunteers will get a smaller housing allowance than my group got. The director said the Gymnasium would definitely pay half of the monthly rent, and I could tell that Roman was impressed with how prepared the Gymnasium was to have a Volunteer.
The meeting at the Gymnasium was great, and I told Roman that I hoped Sokyriany would be getting another Volunteer. He said its a good possibility, and I was happy thinking my friend Erin in Romankivtsi (a nearby village), might soon have another neighboring Volunteer in Sokyriany to hang out with. After the meeting we drove to my apartment, because Roman hadn’t seen this place yet and wanted to make sure it was up to Peace Corps’ safety standards. He loved the place, and the idea that the next volunteer could take up residence here the month after I leave. It made me sad to think that someone else will soon be taking up the place I vacate, but I guess that “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”… and right now, its time for mine to end.
Roman and I discussed my two years here, the highs and the lows, and I told him that I wouldn’t have changed a thing. I loved Sokyriany, despite having a crappy site-mate (the other Volunteer who worked in Social Services for part of my time here) and quite a few challenges at school. Roman said he was impressed by my self-sufficiency at site, and how I never called him to complain when things were rough. I thanked him for always being there, and said it made a big difference knowing he was on my side and only a phone call away in Kyiv if things ever got to be more than I could bear. I realized that this felt kind of like goodbye, and Roman told me he wouldn’t be in Kyiv in November when I fly out… so this was in fact the last time I’d be seeing him. It made me tear up a bit, because he’s been a big part of my Peace Corps service, and I didn’t know how to say goodbye. So I just thanked him again and asked for a picture. My plan is to print it out and leave it in his office in Kyiv when I go, so he has something to remember me by : )
Before Roman left, there was one remaining item of business: my space heater. Peace Corps gives all Volunteers a huge space heater at the beginning of their service, just in case the heating in their homes/apartments isn’t sufficient. Well, the heating hasn’t come on in Sokyriany yet and its starting to get COLD here, especially at night. When I woke up the morning Roman came, it was 38 degrees on the street, and probably in the low 50s in my apartment. It was chilly, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted him to take my space heater! But if I gave it to him, that meant one less huge thing to lug back to Kyiv when I COS with all my suitcases. So I put on my brave face as he worried about me freezing, and I told him I would bundle up until the heat comes on. He put my space heater in the back of the Range Rover, gave me a hug, and drove away.
Its starting to get real now! Goodbye to my space heater, goodbye to Roman… I’m sick of the word “goodbye” already and I’m just getting started. Looking forward to some hello’s though… in a month I’ll be in ALBANIA with Emily, and in 6 weeks I’ll be saying hello to my family at the airport! Knowing these hellos are in the future balances out the pain of the goodbyes now in the present. Plus, my time ending here means I have a new beginning awaiting me in America!
Thanks for reading, sending you all my love.