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.)


  1. Hi, Barb, it's Robin. All I can say is, you're so brave and I have so much respect for how you are approaching all this. How wonderful to be in such a beautiful place, and I have confidence that if any PCV can be of help to them, you will do it. You have such a wonderful attitude, and you are so open to the people you are meeting. You're the best and they are lucky to have you. I am also so interested to learn about the Crimean Tatars, of whom I have known nothing up til now. Bless you, my friend, love, Robin

  2. Barb, you make it all so vivid, and coming to life. I hope I get over to see it and you while you're there. Why don't you post some of the titles/authors your library needs? We can search here to see if copies of books ended up in the States or in the UK.