There are a lot of international workers in our community, particularly in the summertime. Why? The "public" opinion is that this is such a seasonal, tourism-based economy that we don't have enough local workers to fill the positions. MY opinion, on the other hand, is that we have PLENTY of locals (young people) who could fill the positions but they don't want to work! Or, work hard. Or, work in what they might perceive as "menial" jobs - housekeeping, clerking, restaurants, etc. So, enter the international workers . . . mostly from Eastern European countries or Asia.
This fall, while working at the roe & cutting houses, I had the privilege of getting to know two young women, one Russian and one from Kazakhstan. We'll call the Russian woman Svetlana. This is her story.
She was already working in both fish processing houses when I arrived, working the roe house until we were through and then finishing her day at the cutting house. (An aside, the boss lady told us that any who wished could do the same - get in a final hour or two in the cutting house each day. But, everyone [excluding Svetlana who just didn't say much about it] made it sound SO terrible, awful, horrible that I never went to check it out. Now, of course, I'm kicking myself in the pants for not doing so since I now know that working over there is just fine! Sigh.)
Anyway, when I first met Svetlana, she was the Salting Queen, and I could tell that the boss lady thought highly of her. The first opportunity I was given to help with the salting, I jumped at it, and we two were soon the Salting & Caviar Queens, jumping at every chance we were offered to eat some . . . she and I being the only two in the house that truly love caviar!
During my first day or two of working there, I was fairly quiet, just taking in my surroundings and new tasks and "feeling the place out". Svetlana's English was perfect, and were it not for a few pronunciation differences and the occasional "I do not know that word", I wouldn't have known she was an import. But, she had those "Russian princess" facial features, a bit exotic, and she dressed just a little differently. And, she was MUCH more mature (not even on the same level) as her American peers. But, sneaking a peek at her time card, I saw that her last name was Anderson (changed here for anonymity but just as common a name in these here parts)! AND, she wore a simple silver band on her ring finger. Aha! She must have married a local . . . as happens on occasion.
Anyway, as we all got to know each other, I learned more and more about her. She left her mother and father and "little" (much taller than she) sister back in Stavropol before moving to the States 3 years ago for work. She, as many of these workers do, has a college degree from back home. Still, the economy is such that she can make SO much more money in America that it made no sense for her to NOT come here. And, there has been a popular program in Russia bringing Eastern Europeans to the States for employment. (Unfortunately, that program is closing this year.) So, at the tender age of 21, she packed up her bags to move around the world for employment.
I can't remember how she found our little town, but I think she said that it was through that international workers program. I suppose the employers of our town sign up for employees there. For these last couple of years, she's been splitting her time between Orlando, Florida and here. She works through the tourist season here (or a little beyond, as now) and then moves to Orlando to work for the Disney enterprise. And so goes the cycle.
When I was getting to know her, it was impossible to not notice that there was a young man from the cutting house who she was "connected" with. With whom she'd always arrive, take her breaks with, and leave with. He was American (from the East Coast), and I wondered if he was her husband. Then, one day, I heard her mention his wife. His wife?? I asked about it, and she laughed, saying that the boss over at the cutting house (Mr. "Owly", who I came to love) always teased her about him being her boyfriend since they were always together. But no, she and he and his wife (an international worker from Asia) all rent from the same woman in town. Ahhhh, it's making more sense now!
As we talked more about Svetlana's employment cycle (between Florida and Minnesota), she revealed that the three of them always move around together, and that the guy (we'll call him Tim) kind of "looks out" for her. That's my interpretation, as it was plainly, comfortingly clear. Again it struck me: a small group of young people SO much older, in every way, than their peers! I was, and continue to be, impressed. These three (plus three more international workers awaiting them in Orlando) have formed a bit of a family for themselves. A home away from home, as it were. How smart! How admirable! How . . . practical!
Now, in Orlando, apparently there is a relatively new, strong Russian community, complete with resources that range from employment to legal advice to college admission. And, one of the main reasons Svetlana works so hard to earn money is because this year, when she returns to Florida, she'll be attending college there in addition to working. She wants to transfer her Russian degree (in World History) to US accreditation . . . which will require more schooling. Wow. WHAT a hard worker! Her college campus will be an hour's drive from her home and work, but that's a minor inconvenience for her.
Now, back to chit-chatting with each other about our lives, she mentions Harold, her love. (Obviously, not his real name but JUST as old-fashioned an American name as they come!) "HAROLD?!" What's up with that? Oh, must be her husband . . . the one who provided her the surname of Anderson. Okay, that makes more sense. But, I know that she lives alone with Tim and his wife, so . . . ? She laughs and says, "No, no - Harold lives in Ecuador!" HUH? Now I'm TOTALLY confused!!!
Turns out, Svetlana and Harold had met via the international workers program while they were both in Orlando. (I think. I'll have to confirm that.) Anyway, they fell (SO STRONGLY - it's evident!) in love and promised themselves to each other . . . hence the silver band on her finger. (I'd actually asked her, once I knew she wasn't married, if she wore the ring to dissuade amorous suitors, but, no, it's a promise ring.) Since Harold moved back home, she has been to Ecuador a couple of times. (She's learning Spanish while he learns Russian, but their common language is English . . . which is ironic since it's not a "first language" for either of them!) And, next summer, he is visiting her family in Russia for the first time!
Knowing that they are incredibly serious about their relationship, I asked her if Harold would ask for her hand in marriage during that visit? She smiled and said that, yes, she thought he would. I, in turn, commented that her family must be awfully excited for her! She dropped her head a bit, concealing her expression and said, "Dey are . . . dey are worried for me. Not to make 'nother mistake."
Another mistake? Ohhhh, wait a minute . . . Svetlana's very Scandihoovian surname . . . ahhh, I think I'm beginning to understand.
When we were alone, away from nosy ears, I gently asked her about her last name.
An interjection about that - "being away from nosy ears": one thing Svetlana has noticed and which drives her up the wall about living here, in such a small community (and which is ABSOLUTELY TRUE) is that there is no privacy. "Eff-rebody got to know vat effrebody else is doo-ing. NO privacy!" (Phonetic spelling so you can hear her lovely accent.)
So, yes, what happens to a few when in a new culture, when the romanticism of it all is running high, she'd fallen in love (or so she'd thought) and married a local. Someone her age (maybe a tad younger?). An American boy who was NOT her age, developmentally or psychologically. That's another trend I've noticed: young women coming over expect the American young men to be as mature as the boys back home. (Insert laughter until my sides split!) They quickly learn (sometimes too late as in Svetlana's case) that this is, generally speaking, NOT TRUE!!!
I asked why in the world she hadn't gone back to her maiden name then, after her "mistake"?? "Are you kid-ding?!" she asked. "It is SO much easier to live here and have a name dat effrebody knows!" Ha, good point, I guess. I'm sure it's just WE who would love an exotic name vs. a common one like Anderson! ;)
Thus ends Part I of this saga. Stay tuned for the next installment . . . !