Monday, June 29, 2009

My first week in Simferopol

It’s Friday evening, and I have been here in Simferopol one full week now. And what a week it has been. Hard to know where to start, but here goes.
Monday I took the marshuka (little mini buses that are the main form of public transportation in Ukraine) to the Tatar Library. There was a welcoming meeting for me which was very sweet. There are about 15-20 women who work there plus a couple of men. The director is a man (not surprising given this is a Muslim culture). I hope at some point to be able to post some pics on my website. (Right now, I have an old computer at work, and even though it does have internet, it is Windows 98 and won’t accept my thumb drive. Hmm…just occurred to me that it may not accept this document.) Anyhow, the library building is a 200-year old building that is classic Crimean architecture—one level with a tiled roof and a front veranda running the length of the building. It is located in the town center, kind of behind some apartment buildings. It’s not very big, but has a nice reading room and offices. I was told here are large caverns underneath it.
No one at the library really speaks English, but a few of the women know chut-chut (a little) English. I rode into town on the bus with one of the young women, Zarema, and she invited me to her house Tuesday night. That was quite wonderful. We talked and talked with the use of a dictionary and my pidgin Russian and her pidgin English. What is really amazing is that another woman at the library gave me a recently published book (Dream Land by Lily Hyde), which is almost exactly Zarema’s life story. Her family came back from Uzbekistan (where the Crimean Tatars were deported to in 1944) when she was 14, about 20 years ago. I like her so much. I’m hoping we can become friends.
I had another one of my 3-day colds this week, something I have had about four times since I’ve been here. Feel really lousy for a day and then it starts to go away. Clearly, yet another physical reaction to stress (along with my never ending case of hives on my back). So Wednesday I wasn’t feeling great, but I still enjoyed being at the library. Met with the director with his daughter translating—she is very fluent. He told me about their mission and what they hope to accomplish. So interesting—their primary mission is to become a repository of works by and about Crimean Tatars and works in Crimean Tatar language. Many of their books were destroyed or taken away when they were deported. Most of them ended up in Russian libraries, particularly in Moscow. If multiple copies existed, they have been able to retrieve a copy. Otherwise, they have to depend on obtaining a Xeroxed copy—difficult and expensive. They also apparently have a number of old and rare manuscripts and are very concerned about their deterioration. They also want to start a publishing house to publish classics of Crimean Tatar literature. Another project is to establish a bookmobile program to serve the remote Crimean Tatar communities. So much is happening, and all of it needs funding, which is where I come in. Most grants are written in English, so my task is to help Nadzhye apply for grants and also to research grant possibilities. The other work they want from me is teaching the staff English, a common request of PCV’s. We will start some kind of class in the fall. I am being so pushed in all kinds of directions—what a challenge it is.
Thursday I spent at the Children’s Library, which is another library where I will be working one day a week. I think the deal is that the Tatar library along with two other organizations are paying the portion of the rent that the PC doesn’t cover, so I need to work for all of them to some degree. Yikes! There is a pretty fluent English speaker at the children’s library, so that helps. They also want me to do grant research and application, but I think what I really will be doing there is to have English clubs for kids, which sounds like kind of fun. I am not as interested in this library, but I think the kid activities will be rewarding. There is a big emphasis in the PC here on HIV prevention training, as Ukraine has the highest HIV rate in Europe, so I will probably do that. Plus some workshops on healthy lifestyles, etc.
So…then today, I met with the third organization I will work with one day a week. What an experience that was! This organization is basically two guys who are probably in their fifties. They are friends of Nadzhye’s. One of them is the painter that I think originally I was suppose to live with but couldn’t because I am a woman and this is a Muslim culture. Anyhow, I went there with Nadzhye—sort of down a back street to the home of the painter. Neither of them speak any English, nor does Nadzhye, and they didn’t have any kind of interpreter, but it turned out to be great. We just muddled our way through with dictionaries and hand expressions and the little Russian I know, and by the end of the meeting, I just loved them. The painter showed me some of his work—he is in several books and his work is fascinating. I don’t know how really to describe it, but clearly he paints from a place of the pain of the Crimean Tatar people. The project he wants help with is publishing a book on Crimean Tatar art plus a book for children and a DVD. The other man wants help with finding funding for an arts festival. So once again, I am going to be very busy with them, plus the language barrier is going to be quite a challenge. But I think it will be fun and ochen (very in Russian) interesting. Sunday, they want to take me on an “excursion” somewhere. Nadzhye is going too, so I’m not concerned about it. We do pretty good communicating, and I totally trust her. She was going to take me to the ocean this weekend, but her daughter is sick and she needs to help with the grandkids. She said something about next Saturday. The pictures I have seen of the southern coast are so incredibly beautiful, and I have been hoping for a chance to go.
So there’s my life so far. Along with trying to communicate with my family next door, mostly the mom and the 21 year old daughter, both of whom I really like. They also do not know any English! Nothing like Russian immersion.

It’s Sunday night now. I’m hoping at some point tomorrow to end up at an internet place so I can post this. It’s a holiday so I’m not working, but plan to head into town to go to the home of my neighbor’s niece who speaks a little English.
This morning I went to the bazaar near me (a 30-minute walk but only a few minutes on the marshuka)—my first time going alone. It was quite fun and I did pretty good communicating what I wanted. The real highlight of my day, however, was this evening. Nadzhye came at 5 and we walked to the home of one of the men I met on Friday—Ceitabla. He lives there with his wife (I think), sister, and niece. A friend of the niece’s was there who speaks some English. We had a wonderful time—took a walk up the hill behind their house on an old road that wound its way up through trees to the edge of a gorge where you looked out over rolling hills and villages nestled here and there. I could see all the way to the ocean, which is only 12 miles away, I found out! And also a beautiful view of the second highest peak in Crimea. It was so gorgeous—hawks swirling around, an eagle nest nearby somewhere. (Ceitabla didn’t want to climb further because he said the eagles will attack you defending their nests. I wonder if that is true??). And it is a nice walk from my house. On the way back, I kept turning around and checking the landmarks to make sure I could get back there.
Then we had a wonderful dinner at his house of Crimean Tatar national dishes. Ochen cousna (very tasty). And listened to some old lps he has of Crimean Tatar music. The young woman who was translating, Ediye, was so passionate about her people and their history. And Nadzhye was telling of all her plans to take me to these famous Crimean Tatar sites in Crimea. So right now I am feeling very, very fortunate that this is where I ended up. I just hope I will be able to help them in the ways they want.
After ll now, so maybe I should try to go to bed. The traditional Crimean Tatar drink is to serve coffee, and then green tea, and then more green tea after dinner, so I am a bit wired…
Much love to you all from your newly arrived Crimean pal (I seem to be forgetting that I am in Ukraine—this is, after all, the “Autonomous Republic of Crimea.” They even have their own prime minister.)

Monday, June 22, 2009

my new home

I wrote this all out at home, but I can't get this old computer I am using to read my scan disk. I guess the real reason is that everything is in Russian and I can't understand what it (as in the computer) is saying!
Anyhow, I arrived here in my new home on Friday after a 14-hour train ride from Kyiv. I am in Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, which is the pennisula in the southern part of Ukraine and is where all the beautiful beaches and spectucular hiking is--only an hour or so south of me! Simferopol is a city about the size of Chernihiv (340,000 or so), but more cars it seems. I am working with the Crimean Tatar Library, whose mission is to preserve the culture and language of the Crimean Tatars and serve as a respository of all writings about Crimea Tatars in any language. The Crimean Tatars are a Muslim ethnic minority in Ukraine. They have lived on this pennisula for centuries, but Stalin deported them overnight after World War II accusing them of collaborating with the Nazis. About 40% of the population died in the deportation. Kruschev officially apologized to them at some point, and the Tatars began returning in 1989. Now there are 250,000 all over the pennisula.
I have a little house in a Tatar community on the edge of the city. Sort of a suburb. Though my house is very funky (many stories about it), there are some pretty nice homes and the family who I share an entrance and who own my place have a larger home. Everything is built out of kind an adobe brick, because it is so hot here. The water is shut off at noon, and it is the outhouse after that. Actually my toilet has yet to work, so I have been pretty much using the outhouse (hole in the ground basically).
So far, no one speaks English--including evryone at the library which is where I am at right now (my first day at work). The daughter of the director is coming this afternoon so we can have a meeting--she will interpret. My Russian is really bad, but I sure will learn it now, it looks like. Plus some Tatar...yet another language.
I have been to the bazaar with Nadgiye, my counterpart, and have gone for walks in my neighborhood. It is very beautiful here--rolling foothils of the coastal mountains. Reminds me of northern California some, minus the trees.
I am very excited to be posted here and to be doing this job. I just hope I can give them the help they want, which I think is helping them get grants. The Dutch government funded the re-building of the library. I will find out more at the meeting with the Director about what they want. My counterpart, Nadgiye, seems like a very sweet woman. We are trying our best to communicate with one another, but it can be a challenge sometimes...well, pretty much all the time I would say. She appears to be about my age, came back here in the relocation. We met in Kyiv and travelled down here together on the train, a 14-hour overnight ride. Trains are how you get around here. The trains stations are like our airports--at least the ones I have seen.
I do have a computer here at my desk (with Windows 98) and internet access, so that is great. I can't see skyping here, and I don't have it at home, so I don't know about that for now. But there are internet cafes around, so we'll see....
I think I should get this posted while I can. Now sure what we are doing today, but I think getting some food for lunch and then meeting with the director and staff (about 20) and then maybe going to a children's library, which is one of our partners. At least that is what I understood...
Much love to you all. Look Crimea up on the internet and you will get an idea of where i am at. I am the most further south posting of the PCV's in my group--everyone wanted to be in Crimea and the northern gal ended up here. Pretty funny....

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Here's a picture of me with my wonderful Ukrainian teachers. I will miss them!

My last week in Chernihiv

Well, here it is, my last week in Chernihiv. Feeling many emotions—excitement to get to my site and start my life of the next two years, sadness at leaving my new found friends—American and Ukrainian; and anxiety about how I will cope with the changes.
Last Saturday Fran and I had our second reading seminar, and it was a great success. We read two Ukrainian writers from the pre-revolution time, both of whom were imprisoned for their beliefs, and then an excerpt of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech. We had planned on showing it on the computer in the library, but the internet was down, a common occurrence here. It was a good discussion, especially about the metaphors in one of the Ukrainian writer’s piece, as he was unable to write his political beliefs without risking imprisonment. A couple of wonderful results came out of the seminar—my friend Iryna at the library said that it opened up the world of poetry to her (not her words), and the other woman I liked so much in the group (yet another Iryna—there were 5!) said she was going to use the materials in her English classes. So Fran and I thought the experience a success. We both certainly enjoyed it a lot more than the community projects we were working on with our clusters.
And speaking of my community project, we finished it up this week with a training seminar on fundraising events. I think it went okay, but it was not what I would have done if I was working on my own with the NGO. But it satisfied the PC requirements for the training, and hopefully the participants got something out of it. They seemed to. My biggest challenge, I think, was working with my fellow Americans in the group. Different working styles, different beliefs, attitudes, etc. It was a good experience for me—what a change from the world I have been part of most of my life! I know Debbie and I from the group will always be friends, but I doubt I will see much of the other three.
Now it’s Thursday night. Had my language proficiency test today. I thought I did terrible—had a hard time understanding the interviewer’s questions, plus she asked me a lot of questions that were hard for me to answer with my limited vocabulary—like what problems do we have in America! However, after talking with my friends, maybe I did okay because some of them had very limited interviews with no hard questions at all. Well, need to let go. Will find out the results on Tuesday. It doesn’t really mean anything, just gives you an indication of where you are at. No matter the result, I will hire a tutor once I get to my site and will take part in the language reviews the PC does once a year. And will keep studying…I really do want to be able to converse with people here.
Saturday now. I need to get this off today because probably won’t be at the internet café tomorrow, my last day here. Yesterday, three of us from our group visited another organization. The young guy who runs it (23) is such a sweet, energetic, enthusiastic type. The organization works with children and youth teaching them healthy lifestyles. It is affiliated with a children’s hospital—we had tea with the director and got a tour of their facilities and their new offices. One of the rooms in their new place is a therapy room that is totally lined with sea salt crystals. They said it is good for breathing problems. Anyone ever heard of that? I need to look it up on the internet. The Peace Corps is considering the possibility of working with them, which is why we ended up to going there. They would be a great organization to be assigned to.
Spent the rest of the day doing some secondhand store shopping. Today I was going out in the dragon boat with a bunch of folks, but it is pouring rain—a welcome relief after the intense heat this week. Air conditioning is rare here, as are fans and window screens. People just deal with it…
Every Friday night there is a television show that comes out of Kyiv called Ukriane Talent. My family is into watching it, and I have gotten into it too. It is a trip. Like American Idol—three judges, audience voting, very Hollywoodish with elaborate staging, etc. But the talents acts—what a slice of Ukraine. Last night there was a large man who went from priest costume to military uniform while belting some song; a belly dancer; a group of break dancers; two guys on bicycles; a couple performing tricks with blowing bubbles; two young girls doing acrobatics; an old guy who’s talent was being able to lift a kitchen table holding it in his mouth; and for the final act, a blatant drag queen in an amazing long red dress singing some beautiful song in a soprano voice. They were all very talented at what they did, and each act was a spectacular show, but this is something you definitely would not see in America. I just sat there watching it and smiling and thinking how much I love Ukraine.
Hopefully, the next time I post I will be at my permanent site, or at least know where it will be. Monday we find out and meet with the Regional Managers—the PC staff person you are responsible to at your site (they aren’t located there—they are all in Kyiv). I keep feeling like I really don’t care where I go, but we’ll see how I react when I get my assignment!
Love to you all from Ukraine.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Some pictures

Here are a few pictures of Kotsubinsky's house and gardens with my friends Tamila, Fran, and Jud. Also, a picture of one of the craft pieces in the exhibit in the museum. You have to enlarge it to really see it--made out of recycled materials. And a picture of my cluster doing a language lesson.

One more week in Chernihiv

(1864-1913) with my PCV buddies Fran and Jud and my language teacher, Tamila. It is only a few blocks from the city center and is such a lovely place. I had been there before by myself but wanted to go back with a translator. Besides walking through his home and beautiful gardens, we also went in the modern, Soviet built museum where there was an exhibit of children’s art from around the Chernihiv oblast (an oblast is like our state). Fran, who at some point in her life worked in cultural arts organizations in D.C, was so impressed by the work and kept trying to think how she could arrange a display in the U.S. Always thinking (or maybe it is speculating), that’s us PCV types.
Afterwards the three of us (Tamila had to take off) stopped at a thrift store on the way home where I got a couple of much needed summer blouses (yes, they really are blouses), and then bought something to drink at McDonald’s so Jud could use the WiFi there. One of the three places in town with functioning WiFi. A nice day.
Sunday I went to an amazing classical piano concert in a room in the Fine Arts Museum (which is an old building that use to be a school). It only cost about 60 cents in U.S. dollars, there were about 100 people there, and I was so close I had a great view of the keyboard. I did not know who the performer was, but turns out he is a famous Ukrainian pianist, and it was probably the best classical piano performance I have ever been to. It really blew me away. He played for two hours straight with no breaks, just talking in between pieces about the history of the composer (in Russian, but that is what I was told). He played two pieces by Chopin and pieces by Listz and Grieg (I’m not sure I am spelling their names correctly). It was quite an experience.
It’s Friday now, and I am at the internet café with my computer so I will go ahead and post this short blog. Not in the mood to write more. Am cooking dinner at my host family using the wild rice I brought from Minnesota. Should be an interesting experience….
This week we had two current Peace Corps volunteers staying with us at my host family. Kind of crowded, but fun to hang out with them and get lots of inside info. They’ve been here for a year, are posted in a city of 50,000 way over on the eastern border. Very depressed town, high HIV rate, high unemployment. They are doing good work, though, and have made some good friends. The woman of the couple is very fluent—I was impressed with how well she could talk with my family. I’ve been feeling a little depressed about how much language I have learned, but my teacher keeps reassuring me that I am at the level I should expect to be at this point. We have our language test this week—yikes!
Well, here’s this post. One more week here and then a few days in Kyiv. I plan to get another post in before I take off because there might be a delay after that, since I have NO IDEA where I will be.
Love to you all.