BELLY BUTTON WINDOW PEOPLE: Peace Corps Volunteers in Western Russia

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By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, July 01, 2001 - 7:20 pm: Edit Post

Belly Button People: Peace Corps Volunteers in Western Russia

BELLY BUTTON WINDOW PEOPLE: Peace Corps Volunteers in Western Russia

Ah, the Peace Corps Experience! That is what I came here for, "The Toughest Job You'll Ever Love," and all those do-gooder feelings. Too bad the gig didn't work out for me. After three months of training and three months of waiting, I went my separate way. I am sad that I am no longer in the program, and they were sad to see me go. Someday I plan on trying it again

The lucky volunteers who didn't have visa problems and got sites are pretty cool. They are working hard at making the Peace Corps mission a reality under tough conditions and an uncertain future. I wish them luck!

Here are the pages I devoted to the Peace Corps Volunteers in Western Russia, and as they make their own pages, I'll link them too.

Peace Corps Volunteer Party Time

When we first arrived, we were 44 people who were all strangers. As Americans, this stage couldn't last long, so we started to party together to find out who we were. The parties became a regular occurrence, every Friday at the lake. My host family started to joke with me about it, and after the first month, stopped asking me where I was going on a Friday night.

The parties became a way to blow off steam built up from the week, so they were usually not very Russia friendly. I'm sure the Russians understood, but they never came twice. We had fun however. and this party was quite a doozy. There is even a picture floating around of me when I was so tipsy, I had to lay down, but its not gonna find its way onto this site.

When dusk finally came that night, the militizi (police) showed up. After what seemed like a long time and a difficulty on their part to stop their vehicles, they approached us. Once they realized we were Americans, they dove off again, almost running into the lake on the way out. I have a feeling they were partying too.

One of the many traditions we started at the Friday Night Parties, was the Zgrad Skinny Dip Club. As one of the founders I had the honor of leading others into the baptism of public nudity, although they might see it differently.

It was quite strange to have a party in the daylight, but since night didn't arrive until after the busses stopped running, we had no choice. After we learned more about Russia, and Russian, many of us followed the local tradition of "hiring" a car. Essentially hitch-hiking, but you have to pay the driver, so its more like a phantom taxi service. Many times we didn't have to pay because we were the first Americans the drivers have ever seen.

I've noticed that Americans make a lot of noise, especially at a party. I was constantly surprised that we weren't asked to be quiet by the militizi. Some people even tested the limits, like one nameless woman and her "rape scream," at midnight while skinny dipping. That went even beyond my limits.

After being in Russia for a while, we relaxed and let nature take her course. This led to a few couples forming and dissolving at the parties. Although I was never involved, its not to say I didn't want to. For a while Mondays were gossip central, which stories and questions flying around. Over time we settled down and couples really formed. One of the joy of being in a 95% singles organization!

Where we play drinking games, the Russians toast to get drunk quickly. The toasts start out short, "to health," then get longer and longer with each toast. The toasts only stop when your out of vodka, or your just plain out. I usually make it to the latter before the former as all my colleagues know.

Now you are probably wondering how I felt about my Peace Corps experience, and why I split from the program. Well I'll tell ya.

I really enjoyed the experience. Through the Peace Corps experience, I formed friendships with an interesting group of people I would never have met otherwise. I received a very soft injection into Russian life, including an opportunity to live for three months with a Russian host family who were willing and able to host me. I lived for three months in Moscow on a reasonable per diem without a regular job, an interesting vacation I do not want to repeat, and I had a great support network throughout.

Why did the Peace Corps and I diverge after six months instead of the usual 27? That is a complicated answer. After three months of training, just before we swore in as volunteers, we all went to Riga for new visas. These were to be extra special visas, good for two years and giving us some fun privileges. The extra special visas attracted extra special attention from the Russian government. After ten volunteers received the required registration stamp from the correct Russian ministry, all hell broke loose. Seems the Russians were not happy that we had extra special visas, so they held the rest of the passports and visas until they could find a way to give us un-special visas.

The thirty volunteers without passports and visas dug in for the wait. After one month of high level negotiations, including a visit by Vice President, Al Gore, who shook my hand, the passports and visas were released, sans the registration stamp. Here is where the fun began! In Russia, visas need to be registered within three days of arrival by the correct ministry. We had 30 day old visas without the proper stamp, and no hope of getting it. A plan was hatched, we would go to our sites and try to be registered there, without the proper stamp, using the connections Peace Corps had in the provinces.

The plan worked for all but 15 volunteers. Of the 15, five were not allowed to stay at their sites, and were ordered back to Moscow, yours truly included. The five of us waited in Moscow for a solution, while the 35 other volunteers started their Peace Corps assignments. After a month one of the five went to a new site where she could get registered, but she had to give up her first choice in sites and start at a new, untested location. After a total of three months waiting and six months since we started this adventure, two of us decided to move on.

Ain't that sweet!

Look what I got for all my troubles, a thanks from the Man himself. Aww, I'm so content now!

I left the Peace Corps for private industry, because I love this country, no matter how much it frustrates me, and I knew that I could still have an effect here outside of the Peace Corps. I was also just plain tired of waiting. I am a "doer," and I want to do something, not sit on my ass and stare at the wall as the Peace Corps said I would need to do for another two or three months. The other volunteer who left, went to the Peace Corps program in the Baltic countries. He is a retiree who has no desire to "work" again and he really enjoyed Riga when we were there to get our extra special visas.

The two that remain here waiting for a site have the patience of Job and receive my full respect. May the visa gods smile on them soon, before they go any farther insane.

After all that, the usual governmental bullshit included, I would like to try the Peace Corps again. Not in the near future, mind you, but when they get the program running smoothly, and not in Russia. The days of the business volunteer program here are numbered, especially with me working in private enterprise! Maybe when a Peace Corps France opens up...

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Story Source: Personal Web Site

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Russia; PCVs in the Field - Russia



By wayan ( - on Wednesday, June 16, 2004 - 10:56 pm: Edit Post

Wow, I like how you took this content right from my site and posted it here, with out even a link back to my original PCV post.

Now lets correct this.

All this content and more is here:

By Blanche Pavlis ( - on Tuesday, December 05, 2006 - 7:53 am: Edit Post

I don't care how frustrated you were, waiting for clearance etc. Signing on for the Peace Corps is a serious commitment....they didn't "hotbox" you to join. And if you simply had to quit, why exploit this
with a self-justifying article that will have some (though not, I hope, much) negative impact on the organization.
I spent two years in Kenya teaching...from 1980-82. We were a group of 34 volunteers (I by far the oldest...56 yrs. old at the time). Only two dropped out. The remainder of our group are still in touch, and a "mug book" filling in what we've done since then is being made. Those two years were almost the most gratifying in my life (aside from marriage and five children). Then and only then did I feel in real "balance"....i.e that I was giving as much as I was getting, rare in life. I'm sorry for your disappointment with PC and Russia, but overall I feel...sorry for you.

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