Just another day in the fishbowl

I’m finally getting the respect I never deserved. 

As a five-foot-two basketball player, I’m not exactly a show-stopper. Sure, I can drive the lane or spot-up for a three, but I’m no superstar. In America, that is. 

In Ukraine, a female basketball player with fifteen years of experience is a rarity, and, I’m discovering, something of a draw. When I walk into the school gym, children applaud. Now this I could get used to. 

Since I discovered the tri-weekly meetings of a girls basketball club, I’ve been there as much as possible. The group has expanded from 10 to 15 girls, many of whom have never played basketball before. This only reinforces my stardom. Last week, one girl actually brought a video camera to tape our scrimmage. 

However unfounded my town’s awe of my basketball skills is, it’s surely more sensical than their fascination with my other habits, such as what time I leave for work in the morning, what kind of bread I buy at the bazaar, and what my shoes look like. It’s a tall order to be the picture of the United States to an entire community, especially in the former Soviet Union, where not too long ago, America was a distant, forbidden, land. But I relish the opportunity to share American Culture and learn about Ukrainian life and history. 

As obvious as the attention I garner is to me, the outside observer may not even realize what close scrutiny I’m under. When Riley visited in January, he actually commented on our “anonymity.” No sooner had the words left his mouth then my phone rang. My friend was calling to say that her aunt (someone I’ve never met) had seen me holding hands with a man in the street. Other people had spotted us in a taxi, and still someone else saw us eating in a cafe in Ivano-Frankivsk. Inquiring minds wanted to know who this guy was. So much for anonymity. 

When I first moved in, little kids would knock on my door and when it opened, they’d steal a look at me, giggle, and run away. They’ve become more courageous, though. A couple of girls brought me a basket of apples the other day and even came inside for a few painstakingly-silent minutes of fidgeting. One of the braver ones, a fifth grade student, comes over a few times a week to play Go-Fish. 

I’m not complaining about all the attention. I’m just in awe that people care what I ate for breakfast this morning. I’m not sure what I’ll do when I go back to the states and my entrance into a gym doesn’t include paparazzi.

About Claire St. Amant

Claire St. Amant, one of Editor & Publisher's Top 25 Under 35 in the newspaper industry, is a graduate of Baylor University. Claire was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine and has also lived in South America. She has written for a variety of publications, including the Wall Street Journal, the Houston Chronicle, and D Magazine.