Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Delightful Guest

This past week we had a houseguest whom I had previously known only via email. Norma is a Peace Corp Volunteer who spent the past two years living and working in the town of Kreminna in Luhansk Oblast in eastern Ukraine. She works with schools and community increasing awareness and knowledge of ecology. Kreminna has a large forested area (planted) called the “Lungs of Donbas” as well as streams and riparian areas and the study of Ecology is relatively new in Ukraine.

Her Russian is worse than mine is, she lives alone in the town and finding a kindred spirit with an agricultural background was all she needed to cut loose. She regaled us with stories for the next day and a half. She kept apologizing for talking so much but truly, she was the best entertainment we had had in a long time. A marvelous storyteller.

Her adventures in Kreminna would try the patience of a saint but to accomplish anything in Ukraine, patience is more important than anything else is, I think. Examples – she wanted to organize an Ecology club among several schools to meet monthly. Permission must come for each meeting from the Town Administrator to whom the school principals answer. It was not forthcoming for the longest time. They finally had a meeting. She was informed the meeting would last three hours (Why? Because!). After one hour, half the people got up to leave. They had been instructed that they were only to stay one hour. There was no science equipment in any of the schools. Some previous town administrator had ordered it all destroyed; textbooks, microscopes, glassware, all. Why? At independence, the schools were ordered to teach Ukrainian history and culture. Interpreted as to the exclusion of science? Ignorantly or deliberately to “get even”, no one knows.

Her father’s family, Cady, has been in America since 1630 and from the sound of it, has been social activists the whole time. Her Great-great Aunt, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was one of the first leaders of the American woman's rights movement. She and Susan B. Anthony formed the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869. Her grandfather was a professor of English and taught writing to such famous environmentalists as Rachel Carson and Wallace Stegner. Relatives, though not her father’s family, were members of the Communist party in the ‘30’s.

Her father was a Geologist who mapped Alaska in the 40’s, taught Geology (tectonic plate theory) at a University near Moscow and mapped parts of Siberia and east in the 70’s. Norma’s sons are both Yale graduates and the oldest Ezra Rosser specializes in poverty law with immigration law as a side interest.

Norma is an Agriculture and Forestry graduate. She worked for the US Forestry Service among many jobs and for 20 years with the Navajo Nation in land management (grazing, forestry, environment), prior to joining Peace Corp. Norma returns in April to the USA and her beloved Navajo Nation in the Four Corners area to begin an NGO called Four Corners Professional Development Network.

She left on the bus Friday morning for Dnipropetrovs'k, all of us wishing she could have stayed longer. Tanya and I are going to visit her at her log cabin in the mountains of Colorado.

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