To Sir, with Love an ESL Story

Today marked my second week of the school year as a new ESL volunteer teacher in Klichev, Belarus.  The students and faculty have been more than gracious and warm to this one time special education teacher from the United States.

I originally started out working with the English Director as a volunteer for her classes but I guess I am somewhat of a celebrity so I have been getting invites to other English classes to teach or help out with students within the classroom or they found a sucker who wants to teach for free, either way I am having a great time.  As everything else that I have been introduced to since coming to Belarus, this is no different in the fact that there are big differences and lots of similarities within the school itself and the educational system.

Students are students throughout the world , they love their cell phones, enjoy music, getting together with friends, eating snacks, have growing pains at home, looking for their independence and dating.  This is where the similarities stop, separating the Belarusian students and American students.  The educational system in Belarus is still intact meaning the respect for education and it’s teachers is alive and well.  When a teacher enters the classroom the students all get out of their seats, stand up until the teacher tells them to return to sitting.  They are attentive for many reasons but the distractions of cell phones is a non issue because they are not turned on nor are they out on the desks.  They sit in pairs at a desk so there still is the usual talking to one another but for the most part they are attentive like I said before because most kids want to go to the University to better educate themselves and leave this town or the country to earn a good living.

I am constantly talking to people inside the school or out walking the streets everyone is curious to speak with the American or practice the English they have learned.  The kids are the most excited to talk with me, but I hear the adults whispering in the stores “there is the American” and of course being the shy person I am, I tell them yes, I am from America and my name is Tom, most respond with “Menya Zovut” my name is whatever, at that point I see their lips moving and strange sounds coming out of their mouths, I know they are speaking Russian plus they are excited to talk with an American but I have not mastered the art of the Russian Language coming at me a mile a minute so as they either slow down or stop with a very quizzical look on their faces as if they want me to respond to what they just said my usual response is “ya ne pinimya, chu chuc govery Rusky, ya govery Engliska” which means I don’t understand, I speak a little Russian, I speak English.

Since I taught a little bit this past year and some this summer down at the beach I feel like most of Klichev has either heard about me or has been in contact with me one way or another.  I walk down the street and I hear shouts of Hello, Hi, how are you, what are you doing today, Tom how’s Charlie? it comes from almost everyone that is including the adults who very rarely want to learn or even speak anything but Belarusian.  One gentleman in general always rides his bike and as he passes me he shouts out Viva America! (it means long live America).  Most of the kids know me as Tom, or the American but the best way to meet people if you are ever going to travel have a very well trained dog named Charlie.

Getting immersed and assimilating into the Belarusian culture has been just a wonderful experience, opening doors that I would never have imagined and getting opportunities like teaching ESL has been a God sent.  I have come to realize, yes, I miss America for so many reasons but I could adapt, survive and thrive in the Belarusian world….I could live here.

The cyrillic alphabet

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Getting Back into the Swing of Things

I haven’t posted since January 2019, I have been re-charging my battery, taking time for myself, traveling and appreciating everything that has been given to me and all that has been taken away in order for me to come to enjoy a life full of beauty, treasured friendships, loved ones, the freedom and ability to experience the world first hand.

There are so many things that I will be reflecting on, the experiences I have had traveling, tidbits of information I’ve learned, relationships that have come and gone, the knowledge I’ve learned from each relationship and in some situations I was not able to  take pictures so I will try to describe the sights as they happened. I’ve witnessed weddings, funerals, rituals and traditions in different countries.  Saw concerts, danced till my heart was content, flew in single engine propeller airplanes, glided in a glider, jumped off cliffs, road down banisters, taught english classes to Russian students and basically continued to be who I am no matter what the situation.

I’ve been called so many different things in my life some of them very nice and polite while others have shared with me what they think of my life style and me as a person but when it will all be said and done no one will ever be able to take away that I lived my life my way, under my terms.

Thank you all who have stood by my side, encouraging me, supporting me, loving me and giving me the strength to continue on this absurd adventure called life.

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The Sok-Man to take Sabbatical

It has been 7 of the best years of my life, I have traveled places, seen things and witness more love and kindness on the road seeing the United States from the back country and starting this program internationally as I traveled searching for homeless individuals.  With thousands of miles behind me, 1 major crash totalling my RV and walking away unscathed it is with pleasure that we collaboratively passed out 35,000 + pairs of socks and of late shirts, hats, jackets and other miscellaneous items…..I can not thank all of you enough. Sorry, I will not mention anyone in person since this effort has been a collaborative effort from family, friends, strangers.  Your support and donationions financially, materialistically, religiously (prayers/blessing) have shown me more love than one man deserves in a lifetime.

I will finish out this very cold front with what I have left of supplies, which should be either today or tomorrow since I am going to the temporary homeless shelters and distributing everything.  After these stops I have no more finances, no more materials and it is time I reboot myself.  In the upcoming year I hope to accomplish getting my 501c3 non-profit charitable contribution status,  finish writing my book on my homeless people using the monies for expanding this program, and making an interactive website so more people can follow me, make contributions and comment on  what we will be accomplishing.

Again, I can not thank all of you enough, you have made my dream come to life, it is a living breathing program that helps the homeless population survive another day.

Yours in Love and Prayers

Tom (The Sok-Man) McNamara

PS: please keep a bag of socks in your car this was the one major goal I was hoping to accomplish with being the SOK-MAN, see you back in a year.

 

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1st Delivery Today

Took the spark out for my first run of the season, with 55 bags of Christmas Cheer for the homeless.  In each bag were hand warmers, gum, candy bar, candy canes, new socks, new shirts, sweat shirts, hats, scarfs, gloves, and a rosery with a tiny bible.  Found 20 individuals but the 1st one was the funnies and saddest.  Lets call him John, he was very seriously mentally ill, walking the streets with his kite flying which read need anytype of help.  As I approached I could tell he was scared to death of me coming upon his corner.  He was standoffish, and very nervious but as I approached I calmly told him I was the sokman and was here to bring him a Christmas present full of goodies.  As he took the bag he looked in and wanted to know what size the shirt was because he did not like small shirts, he then glanced and saw candy shook his head and said can’t have that diabetic, he struggled to figure out what the hand warmers were so I tried to demonstrate but he said no that it was his present.  I shook his hand said Merry Christmas he quickly turned and focused and the next set of cars approaching his corner.  As I walked away I chuckled and hoped he enjoyed the gifts if only for a minute.   Good night John, hope the shirt fits and you are warm tonight.

The Sok-Man Sleigh getting ready

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The Sok-Man sleigh is getting decorated as we speak so takeoff will be Dec. 20th driving downtown looking for displaced individuals during this winter season.  Bags check, socks check, hats check, gloves check, shirts check, candy canes check, gum check and miscellaneous.  Checked my list for naughty or nice found out they are all deserving no matter where they came from.

I want to extend a hearty Thank You for those of you who continue to support my mission work, through prayers, notes, finances, product and love, it is with pleasure to continue this humbling experience and share my stories of the road with you.

May all of you during this time of festive celebrations have a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah (over) and celebrate with love in your hearts while keeping those who are less fortunate and have passed on to our God in your prayers.

Love You All

Tom ( The Sok-Man) McNamara

EXPERIMENT

I don’t usually do these but it caught my eye today so why not!
When it is our time to leave this body no one can stop it. We have one life to live. The material things we invest in are left behind only to be discarded. Life is not always about the photos. I’m going to start a “reunion of friends and family”. The idea is to see who reads a post without a picture. If no one reads my post, this will be a very short experiment. But if you are reading this message, make a comment using a single word about how we met. If you want copy this message and also use.

Black High Top Chuck Taylors

Chuck Taylors

Black High Top Chuck Taylors, cuffed up long black sweatpants and a black t-shirt to fill out the ensemble of a 7th graders running attire.  Group 1 readied itself like they were lining up for they Olympic Trials or so I imagined in my head.  The gun sounded Black High Top Chuck Taylors was off like a shot leading by 20 yards at the 200 meter mark, being an old time runner and track person myself he peaked my curiosity so I walked on over to the school yard fence wondering if this young man was going to fold or amaze me.  Two young ladies picked up their pace and nearly caught Black High Top but he was not going to be denied being the front runner (he reminded me of an American Top Runner)  as they turned for what I thought was going to be a quick quarter mile, the girls had faded, most of the flight 1 by this time was walking but Black High Tops crossed the 400 finish line and continued to stride forward, he was fluid, relaxed and virtually in control of his running.  Flight 2 had started and Black High Tops was running this group down like they were standing still ignoring everyone, he was in his element, zoned in on his breathing and stride, as he passed other kids they would look and just start walking as he flew past them.  Flight 3 was at the first 200 meter mark as Black High Tops was finishing his 800 meters.  At this point I wish I had clocked this young man’s time, fluid, fluid, fluid easy running, great stride, heels almost kicking his gluteal muscles running as if not a care in the world.  He had lapped most of his classmates by the time he had finished 1200 meters but those he had not lapped they were his target to run down as if hunting for rabbits as he made his final turn for home……the sun was shining, the crown was on their feet screaming  PRE-PRE-PRE- Hayward Field was alive and well…….STEVE PREFONTAINE had not died he has been reborn in a young man, in a very small town in Klechiv, Belarus to hardworking farming parents.

Thank you Black High Top Chuck Taylors for bringing me back to high school.

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ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD (short stories)

God continues to bless me with opportunities to share my goals, mission with houseless, develop my personal story and shower me with gratitude on a daily basis:

Some of my followers have felt or asked if I abandoned my Sok-Man mission work, it is  quite to the contrary I have stepped up my mission work and am in the process of expanding still giving socks out, adding underwear and have been taught by one of my Angels how to make prayer bears for the children on the streets plus individuals who are suffering from cancer. (yes I have learned how to sew this summer) more on this later.

MIKE: With this being said let me share with you that my Biggest Angel in the field is truly an Angel today.  My friend, teammate, brother in arms was taken to heaven Aug.8th 2018 after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  We talked saturday before he left this world and shared some plans for the future.  Michael Pettenuzzo was a friend for 57 years from 1st grade on, we laughed, cried, acted as immature as any adults could, loved, discussed life’s goals, children, marriage, religion, travel, being a father, husband and our love of our Chicago Blackhawks.  Anyone who knew Mike was blessed because he was one of the most talented individuals athletically, but more than that he could capture your heart with his smile and gleaming twinkle in his eyes in a heartbeat.  Mike was that rare individual whom everyone became a better person just because he entered your life. Mike and Lisa, his wife were always supporting my Sok-Man mission with socks, clothing, and a place to park my RV on their property every time I came to New Mexico and a blessing when I left.  Michael I have reached for the phone more times than I can count since you left this world, I will always love you and never forget you.

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AMBER: another angel that crossed my path the other day was sitting by a stop sign flying her kite which read “anything will help” a common sign that is flown by our houseless. She was a charming young lady from Cincinnati who was of a late teenager or young 20 ish girl, she has a boyfriend from Lombard and a tiny puppy, tough way to travel.  As I approached I let her know I was the Sok-Man and told her what I did, as she could see I had 2 pairs of socks for her and while I presented her with my gift of love she started to cry saying “you have no idea how much these mean to me” (something that I hear quite often) I assured her I knew how important they were, she opened her boots and said she didn’t have any socks.  Her sniffles faded as she shared with me that she was trying to get back home, that the last 3 years on the road have not been good to her and she learned a lot from the road.  The main thing she shared was that her decisions had been very poor and compulsive which led her down a very bad path and wanted to go home to reestablish her life with her family, lick her wounds and start over.  I was pleased to here she had a plan to go home reconnect with her family, make amends and start a new.  I hugged her goodbye wished her good luck and said I’d pray for her.  She smiled and said thank you I need them.

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MARIE: will be very upset with me since I am call attention to her which she shies away from but I have to share her story.  I coached her on an adults women’s softball team and we have loosely kept in touch but lately we have started meeting for lunch with some of the old team members.  Marie just retired and started making little tiny prayer bears for individuals who are suffering with cancer and she drops them off at local hospitals.  I told her that I have run into may of families that are out on the streets houseless and I wanted to give the kids something, plus I wanted to help give these bears to cancer patients also since I have so many people through cancer the most recent my 57-year-old friend Mike.  Marie agreed to have me over and teach me how to do it….last week I went to house and we laughed so much my side hurt, as that was going she was instructing me on how to sew on a sewing machine something that I have feared my whole life but have also wanted to try.  She took me by the hand and slowly and patiently how to outline a bear, pin the bear together, make the prayer pocket sewing it on then, sewing the bear together and stuffing it with pillow stuffing.

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JASMINE: This young lady works at McDonald’s in Marengo, one night I wandered out much further then I had planned.  The night started off beautiful nice breeze, sunlight, so I took off for a long walk leaving behind my fanny pack with materials that have helped me out in other situations (you see I am a diabetic) a stupid one at that since it’s just come upon me and I am fighting that label as hard as I can.  Anyhow I was walking through a beautiful cemetery, which is a favorite pastime of mine as I turned towards home the humidity became stifling each step that I took towards home seemed that I was stuck in quicksand, as my legs started to shake, my mind was no longer able to keep focused and I was becoming very dizzy and losing it.  Knowing that I have been in this position before I knew I was in a whole lot of trouble, I also knew my blood sugars were somewhere in the high 50’s to low 60’s which is not a good place to be with no fluid, no sugar, no carbs to draw from.  In the distance I saw those magic yellow arches, telling myself just a few more steps, while I trudged along it became evident to me that I was way past being in trouble but more of a life threatening situation.  I got to the McDonalds but the inside was closed it was 11:30.  I banged on the door this young lady looked at me and must have seen or realized I was in a whole world of hurt so she came over to the door let me and as I explained I needed orange juice, chocolate or something to boost my blood sugars up, she quickly got me the things I needed, I sat down cooled off let the drinks do their work and in 20 minutes I was fine and back on my feet.  Jasmine took a chance opening that door but saved my life.  Today I went back to the McDonalds talked with her manager, shared what her employee did and gave her money for saving my life.  At first she was very reluctant but I insisted, we took this picture together and she whispered you blessed me today I am saving money for school so thank you…..no Jasmine …..Thank you.

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If you want to help the sokman and bear lady out here is what donations we are looking for:  Sok-Man financially is always critical, but outside of that I am looking for socks long heavy socks, underwear mens medium and small women’s usually small.

For the Sok-Man and Bear lady we are looking for fleece for the bears, doesn’t have to be new we take anything, pillows again not new just ones your throwing out with stuffing. (all the pillows are bleached, washed and sterilized so don’t work)

Everything can be sent to: Tom McNamara / Care of D. Witchie 1009 State Route 23, Harvard, Illinois 60033-9422

Thank you everyone in advance for all your support and love

Commemoration Day in Belarus

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This is a national holiday in Belarus.  It is the observance of the 9th day after Orthodox Easter which means it always fall on a Tuesday similar to Fat Tuesday in the United States. It is known as Radunitsa or Radonitsa it is a festival among many Eastern Slavs. Despite it being dependant upon Easter and it being observed as an Orthodox Christian holiday it’s origins are pagan with roots in an ancestral festival.

When Christianity arrived in the area rather than scrap the whole festival it was absorbed, into the Christian festival.  This is when families go to church and then to the cemetery of the family tomb, a meal is eaten and any leftovers are offered to the dead relatives.  Some still share in the pagan tradition and leave eggs signifying rebirth.  As a tradition in the United States called the day of the dead this festivity is also celebrating the dead in a festive way not on a sad somber tone, yet some people still choose to not celebrate it as a happy day.

We practiced this festivity by attending the Orthodox Church prayed at certain statues and lit candles for members of our families who have left this earth but are now with our savior.  As an observer it is very interesting to see all the cemeteries filled with families, dressed in their best clothing, hats, scarfs, flowers galore, meals that a king would be proud to sit at any table and families sprucing up the graveyard with beauty, quite a powerful site.

 

We Need Some Friends/Pam Zander Cash and I

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Looking for my rainbow to help me survive this issue that has presented itself in  my life.

Hello to all my friends this is Tom (the Sokman) McNamara, before I will begin I would love to thank everyone who has helped me along the way allowing me to launch my sokman mission work for the homeless.

Now I am going to ask you another big favor in the terms of giving to a personal friend of mine who has been and is still instrumental in getting my sokman mission going. This young lady single handedly raised more than 10,000 pairs of socks, got her company to match financial gifts to the program and continues to work extremely hard on making this mission not only a success but is attempting to help with making it a 401C-3 non-profit organization.   In the past 3 years she has developed a debilitating chronic disease which has rendered her incapacitated to the point that she is no longer able to work or work on her chosen field, she has found a doctor who says he maybe able to remedy some of her maladies allowing her some freedom from pain and the possibility of maybe getting back into the workforce. The surgery out of pocket expense is 5,000 dollars and the surgery must be scheduled in the next 15 days so I am begging all of my friends to donate.

I currently have 1500 friends on facebook, twitter, and other social media sites if each and everyone gave 10.00 we would raise 15,000 taking the burden of traveling to and from doctors, rehab, meds and surgery…..so with the love you have for my Sokman Mission please give to this young lady.

Thank You

Tom (The Sokman) McNamara

If you are uncomfortable giving on the Go Fund Me site please you can make checks out to Tom McNamara and send them to my daughter Courtney Witchie at 3104 Highland Drive, Cary Illinois 60013