In English, the saying goes, “time will tell.” In Russian, the saying goes, “жизнь покажет” or “life will show you.” I have this phrase tattooed on my ribs as a daily reminder of the people, places and things life has shown me, many of which I never expected. How this phrase got there is a story in and of itself and it all started when I got on a plane to Kiev, Ukraine in September of 2010.
I had joined the Peace Corps after graduating from Texas A&M earlier that year and was selected to serve as an elementary school teacher in a small town about 3 hours northeast of Kiev called Konotop. Arriving in Ukraine, I hardly knew anything about the people, their culture, let alone a word of Ukrainian or Russian. In fact, on my first night my host family had to open a dictionary and point to the word “macaroni” to ask if I would eat that for dinner, so I nodded my head yes and thankfully macaroni is what ended up on my plate. As my Russian improved, I began to immerse myself into a beautiful culture few westerners know much about. Life had shown me how to communicate.
After living with my host family for three months, I moved into a small apartment complex. I bought some cookies and introduced myself to my neighbors (how very American of me!). When an elderly couple, Anatoliy and Nina, opened their door, I introduced myself (in pretty broken Russian) and they invited me in for tea. Little did I know that I had met my new Babushka (grandma) and Dedushka (grandpa). Every day thereafter, I was expected to show up at their house to have dinner with them. Even though they receive very little in retirement (<$100/month) and live in a 500 sq. ft. apartment without hot water, they were willing to share their food with me and never asked for anything in return. Through their kindness and generosity, I became part of their family. They are always with me as my tattoo “жизнь покажет” is in their handwriting. Life has shown me that you can find family.
The struggles of daily life include -20 degree weather and schools that are closed for weeks at a time because they cannot afford to heat the classrooms, and now war. 10,000 people have already died due to the war in eastern Ukraine, yet it is something that rarely makes our news… why is that? (If you have a chance, watch Winter on Fire on Netflix to learn more about how the revolution started.) Life has shown me the many hardships these people overcome.
Ukrainians use their dinner tables to share unique life stories and songs passed down from generation to generation. The time spent with a group of family members and friends sitting around a table covered in fresh homegrown fruits and vegetables, steaming borsch soup, salads, breads, and pastries is one of the most important parts of their community. Their laughter and love is often seasoned by some stiff homemade vodka. Life has shown me how important community is.
Life has shown me a community that I love and I want life to show this community that people from around the world care about them too. I have started a project on CrowdRise (search Konotop within the site) to build a skate park for the kids of Konotop to use. Please donate if you can.
Say yes more. You can sleep when you’re dead.
Jeramie Heflin (are there any other females out there with the name Jeramie?)
Dallas (originally from Mission, Texas)