Sunday, July 26, 2009

July 26th and a beautiful sunset

It’s Sunday, about 1:30, and I’m leaving in a bit to catch the matruska down into the city to meet Natalya, the director of the Children’s Library, and her English speaking daughter to go on a tour of some museum. I have never spent any time around Natalya—she has been on vacation for the last month—so this should be interesting. Plus we haven’t really gotten to talk when I have seen her as she speaks no English and is in the group that is not really into trying to converse without the language. Some people want to try and talk with you and some don’t , or maybe they are just too shy or stressed or….whatever. Like me, many times.
Yesterday was an adventure. I went to the Rinok (what they call the bazaars here) in the morning—got bread, butter, cheese, eggplants, peppers (though discovered I left them there—probably when I was fumbling with the change), green beans, salat (lettuce), tomatoes, peaches. It’s a lot like going to the farmer markets at home, except there is a little stall for absolutely everything—clothing, shoes, toilet paper, dishes. I haven’t been able to find a stall that sells yoga mats, but I am still looking.
At home I did some laundry and then stopped into to chat with neighbors because Enver, one of the artists I work with, was there—he is good friends with Server, the dad of the household. While I was there Lenora from across the street came over and said to come with her, they were going to the sea! I said cechac (right now)? And she said yes, come. So off I went with the family—Neshet and Lenora, Sirdar and Sophia. I will put a picture of them on the blog and facebook. First we drove about an hour to an area of beaches with high sandy cliffs. (This is the Black Sea I am talking about for those of you who are geographically impaired). But the water looked murky—maybe due to the wave action, I don’t know. So they said they wanted to go somewhere else to where the water is cheesty (clean; clear). So we drove along to the coast to a tourist village and ended up at the pebble beach of a resort. It was beautiful—clear water, the perfect temperature. And no waves-maybe that area is more protected. We stayed there a couple of hours until the sun went behind the mountains. I loved the chance to swim—felt like I had died and gone to heaven. And maybe I will have to invest in a new suit—absolutely everyone here, no matter age or body type—wears bikinis and that could be fun! My suit was kind of embarrassing.
So after swimming I thought we would head home, but we stopped at a couple of other villages and ended up at a palace built in the early 1800’s on an incredible site between the mountains and the sea. Strolled around there until dark and then headed home—didn’t get back until 10:30. A wonderful day, but unfortunately when I returned, I found out Nadzhye had been trying to call me—she tried 12 times!—to make arrangements for the museum visit today. I felt really bad—I didn’t take my cell phone because I thought we were just going to the beach and would be back in the evening. Ah well, a lesson learned. And of course, all of this is impossible to explain in my limited Russian. Hopefully, no one is majorly upset with me. I don’t think so. I’ll try to apologize again to Nadzye tomorrow when I see her, but even that is hard to do in Russian!
But, oh my gosh, is Crimea beautiful. Sort of think Yosemite combined with the ocean. Steep mountainsides cascading down through forests to villages on the sea. I took pictures, of course, but they really don’t do it justice. I so look forward to exploring this beautiful land for the next couple of years. There is suppose to be really great hiking, but no topos available, so I’m hoping to find someone who knows the way. I’m sure it will happen—people are so generous and proud of their land.
Evening now, just got back from my museum visit which turned into a barbecue at the director’s home. I met her daughter in town—Kseniya (another name I’m going to have a hard time remembering), and we went to the “ethnographic” museum in town which was a few rooms of displays of the different peoples who have inhabited Crimea. It was pretty interesting, but what was really interesting was I got the Russian version of Crimea Tatar history here which is quite different from the history I have been reading. And almost exactly as described in the book, the museum person talked about how the Russians annexing Crimea in the late 1700’s brought culture to an uneducated and backwards people, totally ignoring the rich and learned culture of the Crimean Tatar people.
So, after about an hour in the museum, we went to the director’s home. I never went inside—we sat out in her garden along with her other 15 year-old daughter and had a nice dinner of the Crimean version of shisk kabobs. I know if as you read this you have the image I have of dinner in someone’s backyard, but it is so not that. The houses are very old, very shabby looking from the outside at least, very very un-American looking, at least the America I know. But it was so pleasant eating outside, despite the rain that started. We just continued on, sitting under umbrellas. And next weekend they invited me to go to a beach with them. We’ll take a bus, which is great because then I will know how to get there on my own. Plus they use to live on the coast and know all the wonderful beaches, or so I assume. Kseniya said she couldn’t imagine not living near the Black Sea and feels unsettled by now living two hours away.
Well, it is getting late here, and I need to get off to bed. I will try to post some pictures tomorrow or maybe just put them on facebook, which is so much easier. Love to you all.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Photos on Facebook

Hey friends--
I think I am going to start putting photos on Facebook because it is way easier and faster. If you read my blog and aren't on facebook, let me know and I will email them to you. Or maybe keep posting them here!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Some more photos

Here are some pics of my life. The last one is the Crimean Tatar Library where I work 3 days a week. The others are from where I live. The red pipes are the gas lines--they are all above ground like that. The others are views from the fields and road up from the collection of houses where I live. I ended up with a duplicate photo but don't know how to delete it!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Summer night in Crimea

A hot summer night, here in Crimea. Just went for a slow walk up through the open spaces and collected a lovely bouquet of wildflowers for my table. Too hot to go on a real hike, though yesterday Sirdar (neighbor boy—see photo) went on a 2-hour hike, doing the loop through the forest and up along the bluffs. A really beautiful hike, and it’s from my little house.
Speaking of my little house, spent yesterday cleaning, going to the bazaar for things like a dish drying rack and a waste can. Rummaged around the house and found a better plastic table cover for the kitchen counter than the really ratty one that was on it, and also discovered a drawer I hadn’t noticed which had a garlic press and a grater---hooray, I’m set! But really, I am feeling better and better about my abode, making it into a real home. And it is such a treat living in a neighborhood where I can walk down the rutted road and say hi to people, and wander around and pick wildflowers.
A pretty quiet week, it seems. I did discover a grant that I think my arts organization should apply for—it’s a European foundation based in Amsterdam and they are committed to culture diversity. After looking at what they have funded in the past, it so seems like a possibility. However, the application is due in 2 weeks! But they initially only want a 2-page description of the project, so I thought that is something we could pull off. But after meeting with Inver and Ceitbala, I really don’t know. The language barrier is just so huge for getting anything done. I’m not sure I even got a across what we needed to get done and when the deadline is. We do use a translation program, but it is a literal translation, and often makes no sense. And we do just try to talk, sometimes with some pretty funny results. Over lunch they thought I asked them a question about traveling to Moscow on business, and I have absolutely no idea what I said that conveyed that message. I am learning many ways to communicate without language, and it can work pretty well when I am having coffee with Maya next door, but it sure is a roadblock in my work.
Joe Biden is going to be in Ukraine on Tuesday, and the PCV’s were all invited to come and meet him in Kyiv at some sort of reception. I thought about going, but just couldn’t stomach the idea of a 28-hour RT train trip, especially in this heat. I am regretting it a bit, because it would have been fun to see some of my friends, though Fran isn’t going either. But I also have this strong feeling of not wanting to leave Crimea and the community here. That Kyiv is in another country and I belong here in Crimea. I have been reading a Crimean Tatar history and am so immersed in their community and trying to understand it, that I don’t want the distraction of being around a lot of Americans. I am going to Kyiv in August for a training the PC is putting on about volunteerism, but I’m going with Nadzhye, so that will have a whole different feel to it.
I tutor a young man twice a week in English—well, not really tutor. He comes to the library for an hour so he can speak English with me. He helped me this week to figure out the modem thing so I can have internet at home, which I am very happy about. Speaking of tutors, I now have a Russian language tutor. We have met and set up the arrangements, and I start with her on Friday. Problem is, she doesn’t speak much English, so I don’t know how this is going to work. Maybe that doesn’t matter, we’ll see… I do feel like I need a lot of help, and patience, I guess. I have been here almost four months now, which isn’t all that long in the language learning department. I just so want to know what people are saying! Or at least have some idea! (especially when I can tell they are talking about me…).
I don’t seem to have much to say tonight, so I think I will get back to my Crimean Tatar history book. I love hearing from everyone, so email me if you have a chance. Sometimes I get pretty lonely for a familiar voice…
Much love--Barb

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Some photos

Here are some photos--Sirdar, the 16 year old next door I go for walks with. This is on the bluffs near my home. A picture of my home and the back yard--garden and outhouse on the right. Two pictures of Nadzhye--at the swearing in ceremony and Kyiv (people here don't generally smile for photos), and then at the train station goofing around. And no, that isn't all my stuff!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Life in Crimea

Sunday morning, just had breakfast, going with my neighbors in an hour or so to explore a cave in the mountains. Trying to remember the week…
Visited the Franco Library, a large city library. The building is only two years old and is by far the most modern building I have been in Ukraine. Very spacious, open, many different departments including an art gallery. The staff was, of course, very proud of their new library, and it was quite impressive. But it didn’t have the feel for me of the small Gasprinsky Library where I work (the Crimean Tatar Library), which I think was a relief for Nadzhye. I think she was worried I would want to work there. One interesting thing about handicap access—the library had many stairs to different levels. I asked if there was a “lift” (elevator in Russian), and they said yes, but I never saw it. And all the doorways into rooms had a raised threshold, which is very common here. And this is a brand new building….Ukraine is no place for a person in a wheelchair.
An elderly man (79) who works in my office at the Gasprinsky Library came back to work this week from vacation, and unfortunately, it has definitely changed the atmosphere. Nadzhye and Fatima, the other woman in the office, obviously do not like him very much, and Nadzhye got into some kind of big fight with him. I’m afraid at least some of it was about my role there because I overheard my name and Peace Corps, about the only thing I could recognize in their stream of words. But he is very friendly to me, so it isn’t anything personal, I’m sure. I wish I knew what was going on, but on the other hand, ignorance is bliss… I imagine I will find out eventually from Nadzhye. We seem to be able to figure out how to communicate despite the language barrier.
At the Children’s Library, I am now conducting an English Club once a week for teenagers (13-15 years old). Last week was our first real meeting, and it was a lot of fun. They don’t know a lot of English and are pretty shy about speaking it, but we played some games and that helped. So now I have become a teacher and have to create lesson plans! Yikes!
Friday I met with the arts organization again. One of them—Ceitbala—wants to produce a Crimean Tatar music festival this fall and wants to find funding for it. I tried to explain that I thought that wasn’t enough time to find funding, but he was insistent and wanted to try, so of course I said okay. This is all via using a computer translation program. So we’ll see where that goes. I do like them both a lot and think they have great ideas, and feel like there must be funding out there for some of their ideas. But I know it is going to take a lot of time to find and apply for it.
After leaving them I stopped at the library to talk to Nadzhye about the weekend. We were going to the Black Sea on Saturday, but she had to cancel—something to do with the family. While I was there, Kmal, the volunteer who helps with the computers, showed me that he had updated my computer, putting Windows Xp on it and now it can also use a flash drive. Which is great, of course, but in the process he deleted all my files! I did have some of them copied on a disk, but much was lost. Ah well, at least it is only three weeks of work, not three months.
Saturday I spent the day mostly hanging out at home—doing laundry (by hand—bedding is really a challenge), going to the bazaar for some groceries, reading. Late in the afternoon, I went out for a walk, and Sirdar, the 16 year-old boy next door, came out and asked to go with me. He speaks pretty good English and is really a sweetheart, so we had a great walk together, practicing our English and Russian.
Now’s it’s Sunday night, and I’m back from a very long (and wonderful) day with Sirdar and his dad, Neshet. Neshet is a contractor, as best as I can figure it out, and has a VW minivan (very mini), so he drove that. First we went to a national park in Crimea about an hour away and went on a cave tour. Quite a fabulous place with many bizarre formations. Supposedly it is one of the five best caves in the world, but since I have seen about five caves in my lifetime, I have no idea if that could be true. It was really amazing, though. I took many pictures, but they look very strange and weird, which maybe is an accurate depiction.
After the cave, we drove on down to Yalta, about another 40 miles. Yalta is the famous resort on the Black Sea, so I got to see the part of Crimea I have always heard about--the mountains dropping down into the sea. It is really so beautiful—kind of like northern California but even more dramatic. Yalta was a trip—very touristy with a crowded boardwalk along the sea. It’s been a Russian tourist destination for centuries—the czars use to go there. I know there are many other areas of the southern coast of Crimea that aren’t so crowded and touristy, and I will get to go there I’m sure. But it seems fitting to see Yalta first. We even went to the castle-like building that is perched on a cliff high above the sea that is a symbol of Crimea. If you go on the internet and google Crimea, you are bound to see a picture of it.
I so like Neshet and Sirdar and the rest of the family—mom Lenora and 10 year-old Sophye. I look forward to spending more time with them. I’ve been thinking this weekend about how I am doing what I wanted most to do by joining the Peace Corps—truly living in another culture. And how this isn’t Ukrainian culture but Crimean Tatar, which is a combination of Turkish and Central Asia, it seems. The people here weren’t born in Ukraine, and they seem so different from the Ukrainians I came to know in northern Ukraine. Many look different, for one thing—often darker skin and Mongolian/Turkish facial features. And of course, they are Muslims, not Christians. And they have a cultural identity that they fiercely protect and work hard to keep intact. That desire for culture preservation is what makes my work, or the possibility of my work anyhow, so exciting for me.
Well, it’s getting later and I need to get up early. And for the report on the home front—after appearing several nights, the slugs haven’t shown up recently, though occasionally I do see their slime tracks, which does make me wonder exactly where they are. And today I got a new, and hopefully working toilet, though I have to wait until morning and the water comes back on to really know.
And there you have it. So, go on the internet, google Crimea, and I know you all will really want to visit me. By the way, this might be the week I get internet at home and I can start skyping and keep better track of your lives.
Much love from beautiful Crimea.
ps Monday morning. Toilet doesn't work (back to the outhouse) and computer at work barely working, so no photos.

Monday, July 6, 2009

My week in Crimea

I just have to record my days as they come, because otherwise I’m afraid I will forget something, as so much just keeps happening. Monday was a holiday—Constitution Day—so the library was closed. I was invited to the home of my neighbor’s (Maya) niece, Lenora. So Maya and I took the bus into town, switched to another bus and went out to Lenora’s house where she lives with her daughter, parents, and brother. I have yet to meet or know a woman in Ukraine who has a husband on the premises! Had yet another meal of manti, the Crimean Tatar national dish of steamed meat dumplings. Along with tomato and cucumber salad. Quite tasty. Lenora and her 12 year old daughter really wanted to speak English, so we had a good time stumbling around between English and Russian.
Tuesday the library closed early—they close the last day of every month at 3pm for cleaning. A civilized idea. I got home early and decided to go for a walk. I wandered out on a back road and found a path up through the forests and onto the bluffs with beautiful views of surrounding wheat fields and distant mountains. If I had kept going I would have ended up where I walked with my neighbors Sunday night, I think. I was very happy to have discovered the trail on my own. I collected wildflowers along the way, so by the time I got home I had a nice little bouquet for my table.
Wednesday evening I went to the Crimean Tatar theater with my friend from the library, Zarema. We saw a production of Carmen in Crimean Tatar language. Of course I did not understand a word, but it seemed a very well done production, and I was drawn into it despite my lack of understanding. There were other people from the library there and friends of Zarema’s. The Tatar community is very close knit here—everyone seems to know everyone. Not surprising, given their shared past. So far, everyone I have met moved here from Uzbekistan about 20 years ago when the Tatars were allowed to come back to Crimea.
Thursday is my “non-Crimean Tatar day” when I work at the children’s library. I don’t really do much there, except spend time on the internet, though in the morning, the director sprung a surprise English class on me. Apparently, she had invited a bunch of kids to show up so I could talk with them—yikes! There were about 6 teenagers, most of whom knew a little English but were pretty shy about using it. I was totally unprepared, but managed to muddle my way through. This week I will be prepared, and hopefully they will return. The goal is to make it fun and get them to speak English. Mostly they wanted Helen, the English speaker at the library, to translate for them.
Friday I spent with the arts organization, which is really just Enver and Ceitbala (two men) and their ideas. We meet at Enver’s apartment. He has a translation program on his computer, which helps to some degree, though sometimes you still can’t understand what each other is saying. It’s slow going, but not as slow going as looking up every other word in the dictionary. We talked a lot about the projects Enver wants to do. One is a book of Crimean Tatar fine art and decorative art—a project that would require a publisher, I think, but would be a beautiful book. The other project is an illustrated Crimean Tatar alphabet book for children along with a CD or DVD. Their concern is that the Crimean Tatar language is disappearing. There are apparently some CT schools scattered around, but the resources available in the language are very limited.
Yesterday (July 4th) I got together with some of the Peace Corps Volunteers in the nearby communities for a 4th celebration of sorts. There were 5 of us, plus a Russian friend of one of them. We met in the apartment of Austin (not a PCV), who is a Fulbright scholar here and has an apartment in Simferopol. The other three came in from communities 1-3 hours away. They are all young (in their 20’s right out of college) and good friends, and it was fun to hang out with them. But in the evening they were going to a “club,” so I headed home. I am, after all, practically old enough to be their babushka.
Today I met up with yet another young PCV passing through town. Simferopol is the stopping off place for all travel in southern Crimea, so I will probably have many opportunities to see other PCV’s. And some of them will probably crash once in awhile at my place, as I am the only PCV in Simferopol, and Austin, the Fulbright guy, is leaving at the end of August.
Tonight (Sunday), I went across my “street” (a deeply rutted gravel lane) and had dinner with the family who lives there. I just met them yesterday and started talking with them and later that evening the teenage son who speaks some English came over and invited me to dinner tonight. When he came over my immediate neighbor (my landlord) was outside and I told her about being invited to my neighbor’s house. A couple of hours later there was a knock at my open door, and the landlord family wanted me to have dinner with them—right at that moment! Of course, I said sure and had yet another nice dinner. But the suddenness of it was pretty strange—I think they must have felt they needed to have me to dinner before the neighbors did. Ah, what a treat to be so desired!
Tonight, it was quite a surprise to walk into my neighbor’s house. From the outside it looks like all the other houses around here, but it turns out he is a builder and has been remodeling the inside. Very open and modern looking with new appliances, one big room of the kitchen/dining room/living room. She is a nurse, and they have two kids—a 16 year old son and 10 year old daughter, both of whom speak some English, the son especially. So we had a good time, though some things got lost in translation, like trying to have a political conversation about Russia (I think). They invited me to go with them next week to a cave in the mountains 20 kilometers from here. I, of course, was very excited to accept!
So there’s a synopsis of my second week in Crimea. I feel so very lucky to have gotten this assignment, to have the opportunity to be introduced to a culture I know nothing about, to be surrounded by such physical beauty, to be involved in work that I can feel passionate about. Who knows where it will all take me, but I feel blessed to be on this path.
And just so you all don’t think everything is golden here, tonight I almost stepped (barefoot) on a big old banana slug in the middle of my kitchen floor. How it got there I have no idea, but I escorted the little dear to the outdoors. Guess I better turn the light on in the middle of the night before venturing to my quasi toilet.
Much love from Crimea.