RUSSIAN VISITORS: Friendships made here hold promise for better future
Ventura County Star (Ventura, CA)
Posted on September 3, 1999
By Marianne Ratclif
|Photo: An RLP delegate gets his first taste of Native American culture at a Pow Wow near San Diego, California, courtesy of the United Methodist Church - Russia Initiative in 1999.|
It is, they explained, tradition upon making new friends and, under the circumstances, not even the stodgiest Methodist could have objected.
Participants in the Russian Leadership Program, sponsored by the Library of Congress with the United Methodist Church and Rotary International, the five Russians are among 2,000 visiting the United States this summer and fall.
They are Lyubov Ganabina, attorney and City Council member; Natalya Perevyshina, attorney; Sergey Shimovolos, civil rights society chairman and newspaper editor; Sergey Simak, biologist and professor; Ivan Mayakin, graduate student, fluent in Russian, English and French, who served as interpreter.
Organizing the visit from Aug. 19-27 was Cloene Marson, a member of St. Paul's United Methodist Church and Oxnard resident with husband Milton.
This was not their first Russian encounter. The Marsons had visited the former Soviet Union for a few weeks as part of a citizens' exchange in 1988. In the 11 years since, they have welcomed to Oxnard the Russian friends they made there -- three teachers and four principals, one the country's director of education, another a member of Russia's Parliament.
Hosting the latest group of Russians were the Marsons, Nao and Judy Takasugi, Bob and Virginia Unruhe, Vern and Jan Swanson, Dick and Kay Felton, Kathy Brooks, LuNeal Hailey, Patrick and Kathie Riggs, Vern and Ginger Novstrup.
On their nonstop schedule, the Russians met individually or collectively with county and city politicians, learned about Save Open-space and Agricultural Resources, visited Project Understanding, Interface, California State University, Northridge at Channel Islands, Ventura College, the county law library, Oxnard and county jails, Channel Islands National Park headquarters and more.
Somehow, they squeezed in a pool party, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Santa Barbara. Mayakin even got to see "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace."
The exchange program is the idea of James H. Billington, librarian of Congress, who said it is urgent that Russian leaders have an opportunity to learn more about U.S. democratic institutions before the Russian elections of 2000, which he fears could usher in a more authoritarian government.
Whether or not 2,000 Russians visiting the United States can help determine the future of such a vast commonwealth, among five Russians and 100 Ventura County residents, bonds were forged.
At their parting potluck, the mood was considerably different from that at their first. There were easy smiles, jokes and song as Simak and Perevyshina played guitars.
In his farewell remarks, Simak said people in the United States live a "good life, everything is very clean." While people can clean up and make money, it is, he said, much harder and more important to create "real human relationships of the kind between us."
Perevyshina described her time in Oxnard as something that can never be replicated. "All the American people we met were wonderful. In the ColdWar, there were stereotypes. But those years are far away and we cannot go back to them. The whole world is getting smaller and it is up to us to bring us closer or to destroy ourselves."
She was, she said, particularly touched by a service at Holy Trinity Eastern Orthodox Church in El Rio where the parishioners "prayed with all their hearts for Russia and the Russian people, suffering with disease and from dire economic circumstances."
Mayakin concluded with an experiment. He recited a poem from Alexander Pushkin in Russian and asked everyone what they got from it.
One said it was outdoors, another that it was in a garden, another that it was a reminiscence.
Mayakin smiled. The poem was about a man returning to his uncle's home in the country where he had spent many days of his youth. As he surveyed the flowers and trees, he thought to himself how much better life was there than in the city.
"As you can see," Mayakin said, "regardless of the language you can speak, you can feel the mood. It is one of the proofs that many things, if not all, that are written in the Bible are true, that once there was one language. And although there are now many, the spirit remains the same. You cannot separate spirits and souls. Our communication proves it once again."
-- Marianne Ratcliff is assistant editor of the Star Opinion pages. Her phone number is 655-1708 and her e-mail address is email@example.com.
[Permission granted by Ventura County Star.]
[Reprinted with Permission]