MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

Fighting GIGOOS Syndrome one train ride at a time

b2ap3_thumbnail_Ola-5-PS.jpgGrass-Is-Greener-On-the-Other-Side Syndrome.  Many, if not most, have had a case of it -- dreadful, pesky thing it is. And hard to get rid of too—some struggle with it for life.

My time riding the rails here in Ukraine has taken on a special purpose. While I’ve always enjoyed sharing a couple of hours of uninhibited conversation with captive strangers, my approach in these encounters in Ukraine has been somewhat more calculated.

While I personally think I do a decent job of looking and sounding like a local, it eventually comes out (whether through the natural questioning period or a grammatical blunder) that I am not exactly from this neck of the woods. I can’t help but feel a slight disappointment when I’m ‘found out’, as a foreigner. Don’t get me wrong—I am a proud Canadian, but there is something special about going unnoticed as one of the locals.

Whenever I mention I’m from Canada, there is a distinct shift in the energy of our train cabin. Sometimes I sense envy, or a feeling of ‘I should be on my best behaviour’, or ‘ this foreigner has it so cushy she has no idea what real life is like’. Still, many default to filling this foreign ear with reasons why they have problems in their life, government and country, and will always have those problems . They can’t find the money to bribe a university for a diploma, they can’t find good work, those that are in power lie and steal and kill, corruption is so much a part of everyday life that it won’t ever go away…

In the beginning, these rants were a hard blow. I used to think about each train character for days after our meeting; it was exhausting. As someone with a generally sunny outlook on life, I didn’t want to believe that things were bad, getting worse, and there was no way out… except for moving to Canada. (As many suggested… “won’t you invite grandpa/auntie (insert name here) back to Canada with you?”)

While I tolerated these bumpy rides at first, soon enough the optimist in me came alive and piped in. I would meet every complaint with something positive that I b2ap3_thumbnail_Ola-1-PS.jpghad noticed during my time here; with a question about how such problems can be solved; by sharing some of the challenges that we face in the West.  I don’t blame these people for becoming blind to the good things that surround them, the general population really does face a lot of hardships, with much of it coming from the government that is supposed to be protecting them.

As a representative of “the other side”, and a seeker of green grass wherever I go, my remedy for these sufferers became my list of favourite things about Ukraine:

1. The quality of food – The amazing soil quality (Ukraine has 25% of the world’s black topsoil) makes the produce delicious, a noticeable difference from the West (except Ontario peaches, those can’t be beat!!)
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2. The amazing nature and history– This one is usually administered in multiple treatments. Ukraine is definitely an underdog on the North American radar of cool tourist spots. I have found, and been introduced to, gem after gem. From the amazing mountains along the Black Sea coast, to the Greek ruins near Sevastopol, to the cliff-dwelling monk community, to the soul-shatteringly beautiful churches in Lviv, to the 2000 year old cemetery in the Tatar capital.

3. The talent and drive! Ukrainians are very driven and capable people. Like one of the farmers that the Project supports once joked in an interview “ Ukrainians like to work. You help us get a tractor, and soon we’ll be working your fields in Canada, and for a good price, too!” Besides the entrepreneurial, “survivor” spirit, many are talented, especially in sports and dance. Many world-class athletes and dancers (especially ballroom!) come from Ukraine, definitely a reason to love and feel proud of your country.
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4. Relationships: One thing that my patients were especially responsive to was my highlighting of the quality of communication between people, especially strangers. People here are open with each other – they talk to each other like we would talk to our family in Canada. Not overly polite or careful, but direct, open, soulful. People here skip the small talk, and go straight to what matters. This is something people really reacted to actually, when they realized it was one of the few good things left over from the Soviet rule --- the brother and sisterhoods between the people.

5. Approach to health – everyone has a knowledge of which herbs, teas, oils help which ailment. There is a culture of folk wisdom that has survived and thrived, and chemical treatments are secondary options for many. Also, there are opportunities for those on their pensions to vacation annually at one of the many health resorts along the sea side as a preventative approach—brilliant!

6. The amount of celebrations! People here are constantly celebrating – “Day of the Rail Worker, Day of the b2ap3_thumbnail_Ola-4-PS.jpgagricultural worker, Youth day, Forgiveness Day”...the list goes on! It was amusing and endearing to me how often there were fireworks in my small industrial town of Melitopol (we’re talking once a week, sometimes more!) Below is a picture at the Melitopol's 228th birthday (which I'm gets changed at the whim of the latest mayor)

7. Opportunities- This is when I would do a shameless plug for the UHDP. People were really skeptical to hear about a project without an ulterior motive, but once I convinced them that there is no catch to the work we do—they were floored. Below is a picture from a recent field day about grape cultivation, which was put on by the Ukrainian Women Farmers Council.
 
I also helped clarify some of the over-glorified myths about Canada and the West – University education isn’t free, democracy isn’t perfect, and the business environment is still its own unruly ‘feeding time at the zoo.’

The result of the treatment is hard to track. I can only hope that the jolly musings of a half-foreigner will have a contagious quality of their own. And for those of you daydreaming of an escape – I would advise against it. The best thing, the only thing, is the present moment. So make it the greenest it can be!

On another note, I leave Ukraine in just two weeks. If you’re not yet exhausted by puns -- yes, the grass has been very green here, but I know that at home in Canada, and wherever my next adventure takes me, there will be green to discover too. Stay tuned for my next and final soul search (read: blog post), where purpose, pleasure, and personal discovery will take the stage together for the last time here in Ukraine.

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