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.


  1. hi Barb-- I'm just loving reading your journals here. Here's a midwest summer holiday postcard for you: a packed-full pontoon on a lake in WI, watching small-town 4th-of-July fireworks with Eddie on my lap. The moon was almost full over the lake. The very same moon you were watching, no doubt.

  2. Hi Barb,
    All is well on 16th ave. I love reading your stories! Take good care,