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.

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