Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Another Kind of Marriage Agency

Kevin McMahan didn’t meet his wife Natasha through a marriage agency. Or if he did, it was through one established by President John F. Kennedy.
The Peace Corps is kind of known as a marriage agency,” McMahan said. “There were like seventy people in my group (who went to Ukraine), including about twenty-five single guys, and there were at least four of us who got married and maybe three of us who got engaged.”
After spending his first three months in Ukraine studying the language with his fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, Kevin was sent alone to Kaniv, a small village about 100 miles south of Kyiv, where he was asked to do one thing: talk garbage. Or more specifically, western ecological principles.
It was the summer of 2003, and as a recent graduate of the University of Cincinnati with a degree in environmental science, McMahan was certainly qualified to handle the subject. But the 24-year-old's lectures were not only voluntary, they were offered at the equivalent of a YMCA, where he had to compete with someone offering guitar lessons.
Guitar beats garbage every time. And so shortly into his two-year stay in Kaniv, he joined a group of townspeople on a ten-day excursion to the Black Sea.
He spotted Natalia Volodymyrivna Yurchenko before even boarding the bus. But Natasha, as she’s known, was just one of the many beautiful girls milling about that morning – and only further evidence to Kevin that eighty-percent of Ukrainian women could parlay their looks into a modeling contract.
Natasha was equally aware of Kevin, if somewhat less impressed.
“When I first met Kevin it was horrible,” she said. “His hair was not beautiful. He had this goatee, which in my country was not normal. And clothes? Wow, I was in shock really.”
But despite his baggy shorts and wild hair, Natasha, then a student in English at Pereyaslav-Chemelnytsky Pedagogical Institute, knew he presented her with an opportunity she otherwise could not find.
“I proposed Kevin: I know that you are American, Would you like to sit with me? I need to practice my English,” she said.
Natasha had fought with her boyfriend of two years the night before and left town only on the advice of her mother. When she returned from camping with Kevin, she had with her something she says she’d never imagined – an American boyfriend.
As for the Peace Corps, they had a volunteer who could no longer be discouraged by the lack of people coming to hear him talk.
“The Peace Corps, they’re afraid, Are you lonely? Are you becoming suicidal? Are you in depression?” said McMahan. “They don’t want any of that. And they actually give you condoms. They would give us like a box of condoms every month or every two weeks, because they’re like, 'Good, you’re having sex, that means you have low stress.'”
Natasha, now living with her husband in the United States, laughed nervously when she recalled the scene they’d left three months earlier.
“I can tell you the secret,” she said. “Almost all Peace Corps guys were happy, almost all Peace Corps women were unhappy.”

Part two is here.


Kevin McMahan said...

Stephen, I really enjoyed what you've written about my wife and I!
I'm sorry if some of my facts aren't correct. And, I apologize if I upset any "Peace Corps Purists" out there. But, the fact remains... I fell in love and I got married. Not if thee's something bad about that, then I don't want to be good!

Katy Voss said...

This is a great perspective on Kevin and Natasha's life. I have only known Natasha for the time the two of them were in Cincinnati, but I see the both of them speaking the words that you have written.
I love reading about them. I am Kevins' sister and for sure, he is in love.

WittyName32 said...

A late thanks, Katy, for your comment -- it's nice to hear their dialogue comes through well.

Anonymous said...

Wow ok the peace corps isn't really about being happy about finding someone. How do you know all peace corps women were unhappy? maybe they were actually doing what they were supposed to do rather than trying to pick up people

WittyName32 said...

Do you mean "I" the interviewer or "I" the interviewee?