The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps - Jud Dolphin

Wednesday, August 24

Washington DC Quake

It's the day after the Washington, DC Quake of 2011.  Here's what I experienced when the ground shook and ordinary time  became an indelible memory.

I"m enjoying brunch with a group of grad students. They are from American University.  This week they  will start their classes in International Studies.  With orientation scheduled for Thursday, I wanted to mark the occasion with a little celebration.  "Let's have a brunch." 

We are finishing our meal when the quake hits at 1:52 pm.  

At first I think it's someone playing a joke and jiggling the table underneath.  Or maybe it's a a construction truck from the building of a new Walgreen store on the corner.  The low rumbling sound could easily be coming from a fleet of construction vehicles.  But why?  What's happening?   

Then the stained glass chandelier above the table begins to swing and we all look at each other in shock.  What do we do now?  

I was going to run outside onto my patio, but a young woman from California says "NO!"  She advises that the safest place is under a door frame.  Who would have thought?  With 16 floors of concrete above me, I followed her advice.  

We all scurry into my short hallway that connects bathroom, bedroom and living room.  Crammed under several doorways, we stand stunned and watch the pictures sway on the walls.  Something falls off a shelf and crashes to the floor.  Oh no!

At such times, you are suppose to have a mental flash-backs of your life.  Accomplishments, regrets, people you love and so forth.  

Me?  I said, "Damn, just when I got all my boxes unpacked, look at what's happening.  I'll have a mess to clean up."  So much for spiritual depth and insight.  Fortunately only one item fell from the shelves and it was not broken.

The quake was over in about 15 seconds or so, but I kept shaking.  Never before had I experienced one.  The grad students all said that my back-to-school brunch "Rocked and Rolled."

Considering what might have been, all is well in Washington.  Several spires on the National Cathedral fell to the ground.  It is situated on the highest point of the City.  I can only imagine the sway that caused this damage.  But no one was hurt.  

The 127 year old the Washington Monument is closed for inspection.  A few fractures were spotted near the top.  

A swimming pool in a sports center at the top of a shopping complex cracked and spilled water on a Target and Best Buys below.  But again no one was hurt.  

 I wonder if there will be Quake Sales.  Maybe it will "level" some of the prices. (My brother is responsible for this pun!)

A friend from Lafayette says, "I had no idea that DC was on a fault. I thought that the only fault was above ground in the House of Representatives."  I was hoping for a shake-up.  But thankfully, life just goes on....

Friday, August 5

On My Way: Back in America

I’m on my way to being back in America.  I've been here for two months and I have had my share of returning culture shocks.  Sometimes I notice the speed of American life.  I feel like a mini-car on the DC beltway dodging congestion and racing forward.  People seem driven.  Every day demands more and more.  As they say, Americans are highly productive.  
I look at young professionals going to work.  In Kiev the escalators moving into the Metro goes at double speed, but here it’s the people.   I see a young woman, professionally dressed, but in sneakers, actually racing down the escalator like she is competing in a race.  And maybe she is.
I notice that everyone in America has technology in hand.  While cell phones are ubiquitous in Ukraine, smart phones and I-Phones and Blackberries have taken over America.  People meld into their electronic possibilities.
A blue suited young man pulls out his electronic device and stares at its 2.2 inch screen.  His thumbs are busy typing or flicking across the Internet.  He’s so absorbed that I think there could be a robbery happening near-by and he would not notice.   American life has gotten even more intense or maybe I have forgotten what it was like back in 2008.
I miss the slower pace of Konotop.  I miss the children at Hearts of Love who greet me every day with warm enthusiasm.  I miss running into friends at the Konotop fountain and exchanging greetings in Russian. 

 I think about my Peace Corps buds and hanging out at the local cafĂ© or making pizza for the gang (mine is the best!).  I yearn for phone calls from Ukrainian friends who have practiced these English phrases so that they can give me a proper invite to a family dinner or a picnic in the forest and a swim in the river.  I miss the simple pleasures of everyday life and the people who made them so enjoyable.
Peace Corps friends: Rose and Jeramie
Moving on gives a legacy of memories, but then surrounds them with longing.   I close my eyes and I am in Konotop.  Last night I dreamt of Konotop.  It was not a story-dream as much as it was a people-dream.  Faces flashed before me like slides on a screen.  Luda, Yelena, Marat, Andre, Anton, Arteom, Oksana, Maxim, Anna, Ilia, and little Maria.  I cuddled her in my arms.

If you could have seen me, I think you would have noticed a smile on my face.  I love the people of Konotop and the privilege of serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  But of course, I’ve moved on.  I open my eyes and here I am in Washington, DC. 

Thankfully, I’ve been surrounded by good friends.  Bob and Joann Bell and their son, Bob, have opened their home as I repatriate into my old life.   Bob and I became friends in 1968 at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and have stayed in contact all these many years.  It’s wonderful.

Bob is the first American I meet upon my return.  He greets me at National Airport.  After nearly 24 hours of travel, his warm smile makes me feel like I am home.  I will always be grateful for his hospitality and friendship.   I stay with the Bells for about 5 weeks.  There’s much to do.  I must finalize details for the purchase of my co-op apartment and start my Social Security, Pensions and Medicare.

 I find myself in a Catch-22 situation.  The Co-op Board hesitates to approve my application to buy a unit because I have no cash flow.   Since I have been out of the Country, I have not been able to have my Social Security and Pensions kick in.   It will take a month or so.  I have investments, but alas I show no cash flow.  What to do?  For a few days, I wonder if I will be homeless. 

My realtor knows the president of the management company and writes a letter.  Like Ukraine, people connections are important.  Approval comes and I make settlement on June 20th.  It’s official.  I now live at 3001 Veazey Terrace NW, Washington, DC. 

I take a few more weeks to paint the all-white-apartment in warm Spanish hues.  I decide to be bold and paint burnt orange in the living room.  Brilliant or not, the verdict is still being decided.  People say that they like it, but are they just being kind? 

My desk and reading area.
Not with standing living room walls, I love my new home.  I have an ample kitchen where counter space is measured in feet, not inches.  My stove has four burners and a griddle in the middle.  They all work.  My fridge has water and ice in the door.  Imagine.  I have hot water every day.  Down the hall is a room filled with washers and dryers.  No more bath tub soaking and swooshing for me.  Just select the wash cycle and tumble dry.   It’s easy to re-adjust to luxury.  Maybe, it’s too easy. 

Today is ordinary.  I'm going to buy a toothbrush.  I walk from my new apartment down a short hallway through an automated door and into the underground garage.  My apartment building is connected to a Giant Supermarket which is just a 50 yard stroll down a ramp and through another automated door.  There’s no need to go outside.  Everything is interconnected and convenience abounds.  I am back in America. 

The doors open to the produce department.   The space is large.  I think it must be 3 or 4 time larger than any market in Konotop.  Fruits and vegetables spill from the shelves.    The variety is stunning.   In Ukraine I remember how excited I was to find a few broccoli heads at the market.   Here thick displays tempt the eyes to buy more and more.  
Behind the produce section, I discover the rest of the supermarket.  It spreads out into 12 more aisles brimming over with products.   By American standards, I guess it’s not so unusual, but with my acquired Ukrainian sensibilities, it’s colossal.  I wander from one aisle to the next.  There’s too much to see. 

I find my soft bristled toothbrush on aisle ten.  I can’t help but chuckle to myself, “that was easy.”   In Konotop, I remember preparing for the buying of a tooth brush.  I didn’t want to get a hard bristle one again.  So I looked up the words in my Russian dictionary, wrote them down and hoped that I could recognize the labeling. Buying something as simple as a toothbrush sure could become an adventure.

But in America it’s easy.  Signs and labels are in English.  Maybe there are sub-texts in Spanish, but always English.  After 27 months surrounded by Russian, it’s comforting to be a native speaker in my native land. 

I buy my new tooth brush and head home.  I retrace my steps through the automated doors and within a few moments I am sitting on my patio.   
Growing tomatoes and basil on my patio

It’s a calm green spot surrounded by trees and plantings.  It's my private oasis in the midst of the hectic city.  I’ve made a little water fountain with two large pots.  It’s so soothing.  I turn it on and stare into the mesmerizing spouting and gurgling of water. 

Yes, I’m on my way – well on my way to being back in America.   But maybe I will just close my eyes for a moment and catch another glimpse of Konotop and my friends. 
Friends wishing me well as I depart from the Konotop train station