Saturday, July 30, 2005

Another Kind of Marriage Agency: Part Two

Early in the winter of 2003, when Kevin McMahan was given the choice to spend two years in either Romania or Ukraine, the incoming Peace Corps Volunteer opted for the latter. The Beatles, he explains, sang about Ukrainian girls when they went back to the USSR, not Romanians.
Like several of his fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, Kevin also looked on the internet before he left the United States and found a sampling of web-sites advertising “mail-order brides” and introductions to beautiful women.
“We’re just interested,” he explained. “Everyone hears these stories.”
But despite such stories, those of young beauties willing to flee Ukraine with older less attractive men, Kevin never approached a marriage agency. Instead, on a camping trip sponsored by the youth center where he gave lectures on western ecological principles, he met Natalia Volodymyrivna Yurchenko.
Natasha, as the twenty-two year-old is known, is now married to Kevin, 26, and living in Davis, California. They appear the happy couple, no different than any two Americans you might find at the mall. She sits on his lap while inspecting a photo album; he tells her to tell this story or that, she gives him the occasional look that says more than any word.
But then there are moments during our two hour conversation when Natasha seems as removed from the United States as her Ukrainian accent. Her face tightens and her finger flies up before her, and she speaks in a vocal range Kevin's voice doesn’t possess.
“Even if you have job in my country, this job is so stupid,” she said. “You just work everyday, work a lot of hours, and receive zero,” she said. “Zero! My father, he worked one year in one job; they didn’t pay him – they didn’t pay him, one year he worked!”
Despite such conditions, Kevin was willing to stay in Ukraine if that meant pleasing his wife. “I’d be raising pigs or something,” he said, but he didn’t care.
In the end, the romantic gesture was filed away with the thoughts of a retirement still several decades away, because this was no longer the country Natasha had known as a child, when under Communism the streets were still clean, new buildings were going up, there was no homelessness, and prices were low and salaries, if not high, were at least higher.
“I was not going to stay in Ukraine, I was not going to stay,” she said. “I didn’t know what country I was to go, but I was going to go somewhere.”
Before meeting Kevin and leaving her hometown of Kaniv, Natasha applied for a job as a “stewardess” on AeroSvit, and earned a specialist’s degree in teaching at Pereyaslav-Chemelnytsky Pedagogical Institute, the same institute that matriculated the Brothers Klitschko. To get to her classes, she hitch-hiked once a week for two years, occasionally dealing with the unwanted advances of the motorists who ferried her.
“Our people, they can get used to any situation,” she said. “They are not afraid of anything.”
When not studying, Natasha spent forty hours per week at a nearby orphanage, where she gave English lessons to the children who’d been removed from an abusive home, seen their parents die at an early age, or been abandoned, often at birth and often due to a parent’s inability to afford the child’s most basic needs.
Natasha was paid $45 a month.
“It was difficult to leave Ukraine because there is my family,” she said, “there is all my relatives, all my friends. But I wanted to have new life, new opportunities for life, because in my country it’s hard to find a good job.”
Within a month of coming to America, Natasha was cleaning houses and then finding work as a clerk at a Rite Aid drug store. Kevin, a park ranger, said he came to view his relationship with her as an opportunity for him to share America’s wealth.
“I had this chance,” he said, “and it’s like a Golden Ticket almost. I was like, Why do I need to be selfish? I know how good America is, and we have so much in America, I want to bring Natasha to America.”
He also admits he always wanted to feel wanted and needed, a desire Natasha acknowledges she now helps him satisfy.
“I don’t know computer very good, I cannot drive, I don’t know language so perfect," she said. "But I’m still fine. I feel very good."

Part One can be found here.

1 Comment:

Kevin McMahan said...

Once again, I enjoyed what you wrote about Natasha and I!
Natasha was actually working 40 hours a week at the Orphanage. And, still being paid only $45 / month.
I hope people don't get the wrong impression about the Peace Corps. Or, about me.
It's just that the Peace Corps is a job. And, when you're over there, you're living your life. At first I thought I was expected to put my life on hold for 2 years. Kind of, "live like a priest." But, I'm not a priest, and I chose to "not knock it..." When I fell in love with Natasha, I wasn't going to let it happen, that I would wake-up 20 years from now, and kick my self for not marrying her.
Allright, good luck with everything, Stephen, and keep those entries coming. You can atleast count on 1 person (me) reading them.
Later, Kevin