Last Bell and the Little Ship

Trip Start Sep 25, 2004
Trip End Dec 22, 2006

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Saturday, June 3, 2006

The last month of school- a flash of holidays, grant-work, tests and trips. This week Americans celebrated Memorial Day, and Ukrainian schools celebrated the "Last Bell!" Last Bell and First Bell are the ceremonies right after and before school. Everybody in the school lines up in a circle by class, and the 1st and 11th (the seniors) stand next to each other. They dress in maroon and white, and the girls have pig-tails with BIG puffy white bobbles attached to the sides of their heads. The oldest boy carries the youngest girl around the circle, and she rings the bell. There are awards, songs, flower exchanges, and speeches. It's one of my favorite remains of communism in Ukraine. The teachers always celebrate together afterwards.

I ought to be more cheerful right now with all the recent celebration, but the weather has been awful for 10 days. Cold and rainy, and the worst is the lack of sunshine. I pulled my winter sweaters back out of the closet, which was a sad moment.

I heard a story on Radio Svoboda ("Liberty Radio") yesterday about an American ship with weapons discovered near Fiodosia, Crimea (Ukraine). I'm still working on my listening comprehension of radio news, so I understood only 70% (which should be taken into account before I continue). However, it did spark some interesting thoughts which don't really depend on my complete comprehension. From what I understand the reaction taken (from the Ukrainian standpoint) treated the American ship as an "invading force."

We all wonder what's happening to our countries sometimes. In fact, nationalism and patriotism sometimes spark us not only to be a bit self-centered, but sometimes highly self-critical too. So, perhaps this is just a case of "home-land blues," but this morning I realized that the world sees the USA as an invading force, and they are right! Wether I like it or not, I am part of this "invading force."

Look at my people: Adventurous. Bold. Brave. Creative/ Critical thinkers. Fun. Honest. Kind. Cheerful. Faithful. VERY hard working. Long-living. Fat. Athletic. And, FREE! Yes, we don't even realize how FREE we are. Free to travel without a visa. Free to buy or wear whatever we want. Free speech. Free press. Free religion. Free to be consumers. Free to demand comfort. Free to drive our own vehicles, washing machines, computers, microwaves, and even dishwashers. Free to eat anything we want- avocado to zucchini, vegan low-salt fat-free with soy-isoflavones- any time of the year. Free to travel and be volunteers. Invaders of the planet, even though we are only trying to be nice and do the best for the world and ourselves.

I read a quote from Fareed Zakaria, who has become my favorite columnist in Newsweek. As a quick side-note, this true evidence of my adulthood- I can't believe I am quoting NEWSWEEK (I used to think my parents were such dorks for keeping stacks of Newsweek and Time next at their bedsides, and I happily went to sleep next to my Newsweek last night)! The quote said, "The 21st century will be the century of change. More things will change in more places in the next 10 years than in the previous 100. Most countries aren't ready for this dizzying ride-- certainly not the United States of America."

Of course, we are always living in "a century of change." It blows my mind to think that at my age, my grandparents weren't even sure democracy would prevail over communism. At least I'm not worried about that! I think the quote hints that in this century the USA will become less respected and powerful. This is wonderful and healthy for the world, but on the flip side, it does make being an American abroad harder than it used to be 10 years ago. Every country should form herself, and we need a stronger WORLD democracy!

I think the best part of doing something like Peace Corps is becoming a world citizen, not necessarily "helping poor countries." I'm not really sure I have "helped" people more than I could in the USA. And it's sad, but many American volunteers do not end up becoming world citizens. It requires stepping outside my American shell, and I still struggle with the things that America is not. Somber, slow, uncomfortable, gentle, humble, soft-spoken, conservative, patient, compassionate, flexible, lazy and cunning!

When you start challenging most Americans at their cultural core, many naturally become psychotic, defensive, fearful, negative and resentful. I hope we don't do that in the world's future! I heard about that little ship sent home off the coast of Crimea because it was carrying weapons. I thought about myself as a little ship, except trying not to be armed. It's harder than you'd think, but so important to keep PEACE. I've seen too many "armed" Americans abroad who resent other cultures. But, sometimes it hurts to discover more about what you are, and what you are not.
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