I spend a lot of my time here hoping that people don’t notice me. When I ride the bus or go shopping at the super market, I try to be as invisible as possible, hoping that no one has a problem with me or wants to know something. I’ve been mistaken for a Ukrainian (yes, even before my bangs) but I don’t know if it’s because of my appearance or more because no one expects an American to be wandering around. Regardless, 4 times out of 7 I don’t understand the question, or what’s going on.
The other day I was getting off a bus that doesn’t have an automatic door. I’ve noticed that quite often people don’t shut the door all the way, then someone else has to open it and shut it again. So when I exited, I shut it firmly. The drive pulled forward, opened the side door and called me over. I thought he thought I didn’t pay. I asked what the problem was. He snorted and asked if knew how to read in Russian. In hindsight, I probably should have said no. But I nodded, only to have him demand why I felt the need to slam the door. I apologized, to which he again snorted, then pulled away. The passenger in the seat next to him couldn’t stifle his laugh. He ruined my day, although now I, as well as everyone I tell the story to, can laugh about it.
I thrive on relationships. If I don’t know people, I don’t want them to notice me. Surely if they knew how hard I was trying and how difficult this was for me, they wouldn’t give me a hard time. Would they? Then I just have to accept that sometimes it doesn’t really have to do with me. Maybe he’d just had a bad day. Or one too many people had slammed the door and aggravated his headache.
I went to the bathroom the other day in the building where the Rehabilitation Center is situated. I carried the little soap dish, a bit of toilet paper, and was wearing my slippers (we have carpet down now, so we can’t wear out muddy outdoor shoes). The woman who is responsible for cleaning the building stopped me as I was entering the bathroom, asking me which organization I was from. I hesitated, then smiled and said, the Rehabilitation Center. She studied me for a moment, then her face relaxed and she said in a motherly way “Oh yes, I understand.” I wanted to ask, understand what? I can almost guarantee she thought I was mentally challenged, like most of the people I work with at the Center.
Another time I participated in a talent show we had for the Student Theater. I recited a poem in Russian, although I could barely remember the words. I began by saying that I didn’t write it. But my emphasis on the syllables was incorrect and I actually said I didn’t pee it. Everyone laughed, as would I, and asked if I knew what I said. With a burning red face, I said I did.
I will have a thicker skin when I leave here in two years. I am in a humble position and it humbles me as I try and live among the people in this town. I will make mistakes. I will draw unwanted attention, and people will laugh at me. I have no choice but to learn to laugh with them.
PS. Photo is totally urelated: me serving lasagna on my birthday…eveyone loved it!