May Fray


I would blog alot more if my memory didn’t temporary erase itself. I started taking a sleeping aid and I think they are akin to stupid pills. Sometimes that isn’t so bad because I stop thinking so much and I go around smiling all the next day, plus I got regular sleep. Did I mention they make me stoopid though? I forget everything. Wait I already said that.

Well before I forget about her, I am going to write about MF.

MF served with me in Peace Corps, and even though she might think I am kinda odd, I think she is cool. MF is a total no BS kind of person. But rather than talk about her, I am gonna tell about meeting her and coming to know her, in a series of MF vignettes. Let’s see if I can do this.

It was a strange October in DC when we all first met. It was around the 27th, and the weather was unseasonably warm. So much so, we were all dressed entirely too warm and subsequently in this tense first meeting of our group of 30 some odd, we were mostly kinda sweaty.

After enduring the ill-advised Cosby sweaters for our first meeting under the buzzing fluorescents of a Grand Plaza suites, one of many anonymous but suitably well equipped hotel rooms, we dispersed to our rooms. Some repacked, some slept, some went out carousing, some did a little of all these things.

I don’t remember MF in the fray of these awkward first meetings. I thought I was the 10 percent, making comments that made people look at me funny. But I hadn’t met Chris, the guy with permanent bedhead, huge muscles, no self editing skills and no problems finding girls with whom to be carnal and clean his apartment. He was removed from Ufa in the middle of teaching a class. His “separation” was shrouded in mystery, and he was strange enough that our imaginations clicked in time while hearing the limited details of his demise at trainings.

One volunteer speculated that they couldn’t imagine ever having been worried that they would not be accepted into Peace Corps when they got to know Chris, who would randomly allude to how he would murder particular people who didn’t do as he willed.

MF was there though, in that hot room with fluorescent lights. Wearing a sweater like all of us, regretting it. Shaking hands. Smiling nervously. Hoping to remember these peoples names, not knowing what to expect from their smiles, their hairdos, their pants.

I was with M though. M was next to me because our lasts names were alphabetically aligned. We were fated to spend time together on this account, on account of the alphabet. What is amazing to me is that as I write this she is consulate in a town I visited in China. She who packed and repacked more times than I can remember. She who obsessively apologized for smelling bad, and she who listened to me go on and on and on as I tried to work out a sexual harassment situation. Honestly, she gets awards for listening.

Sometimes I think those who get the best are just those who didn’t give up. Ever.

MF and I got a little closer because we were assigned to the same Russian language group. Her distinguishing characteristics were her black curly short hair, her shortness and her perpetual roundness which was, like all of us, enhanced by the layers of clothes that we were required to wear in negative 20 degree weather. She was perpetually amiable, but not overly so. She dissociated herself from the vodka drinking and promiscuous clique that formed in our cultural adjustment phase which made me like her. However, her Russian in class and on the street was completely unintelligible to Russian speakers and English speakers alike. It was painful to listen to her destroy simple words that seemed to confuse her mouth so badly that I began to dread her interpretation of Russian. My only strong suit in Russian was an accurate accent, though it was coupled with grammar guesswork. I dreaded listening to her struggle through the new sounds that Russian made her formulate. She turned a perfectly difficult language into her own language that no one understood and was a discomfort to listen to.

MF decided to hang out with me on Christmas day. The 25th of December is no big deal in Russia, and I had received a note that said that I had a package from home waiting for me at some post office in the town of Vladimir. So we, MF and I, set off to find the post office that might have my much desired package, the first one from home. It was also the coldest day I had ever experienced in Russia, at negative 35 degrees Celsius.

All we had was a small low quality piece of paper that was printed with Russian words that we only vaguely understood. We embarked in a search for the package on this less than balmy day.

Neither of us knew downtown very well. Ice collected in our noses. MF’s generous facial hair gathered ice. We trod up streets searching for the pochta, asking for help and trying to understand what we were told. Ducking into producti magazin’s when we got too cold.

Her willingness to do this was deeply appreciated by me. She had less idea than I did of what we were doing, where we were going, but was an amazing sport to go with me in search of the package. Finally we went home to where my host mom was grieving the loss of her father which recently occurred, but I had barely realized this. Olga, my host mom, helped me find the pochta with MF that day.

The package was huge, and had cost 125 dollars to send. It was large, heavy and bulky. It took all 3 of us to get it back to the kvartira (apartment) on the trolleybus where grandmothers dealt us swift blows to the kidneys to jostle for a seat or place to stand. I cried over the pictures they sent as I wondered why in the world I had ever come to this god forsaken frozen place for 2 years. I pondered the shoes they mailed, remembering at one point I thought they were important. How deceived I was. At this point my only valuable shoes were a pair of boots that could accomodate 3 pairs of socks and had sufficient tread to assist walking over ice.

to be continued.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Mrs. T says:

    Yay for this post!The only thing that I would change would be to actually be listening to you tell this over a nice cuppa joe.I know this may seem random, but it’s how my brain works, but have you seen “Lost in Translation” and if you have, did you like it? Because I was just talking about it with someone and I really think it captures the essence of friendships formed in situations like you describe here. Being out of one’s element- esp. in a foreign country can make us form unlikely friendships that often times are quite close and intense.Can’t wait for part 2!

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