Monday night. Trying to stay warm with a blanket wrapped around myself. Turned cold and windy this weekend, and I’m assuming, like the rest of Ukraine, the central heat doesn’t get turned on until at least the middle of October, maybe later. Unlike America, the heat in Ukraine (gas) is controlled centrally in the towns and cities and gets turned on and off on certain dates—usually October 15 to April 15. Though last year, a nearby PCV didn’t get heat until December! The Peace Corps does provide us all with electric space heaters, but it can get mighty cold in Ukraine, even down here in Crimea. I took a walk this afternoon and experienced the infamous Crimea wind. It was just blasting across the open land. It is also beginning to get darker earlier—sunset is about 6:45 now—and everyone says in the winter it is dark by the time you get home from work. Like Minneapolis. Well, I finally looked up the latitude, and it is indeed like Minneapolis—we are almost at the same latitude. In Ukraine I think of myself as living in the south, and it is definitely warmer in the winter than Minnesota, but we are basically on the same latitude, so we experience that same low winter light here. I will have to really make an effort to see my neighbors. This summer I got together with them because I would run into them outside, but now we are all going to be holed up in our houses.
Nadzhiye was still gone on vacation this week, so I didn’t do a whole lot at the library, besides trying to make some contacts at the Library of Congress—a challenge in itself, as they have 3700 employees. My new English Clubs are starting up at the children’s library—one in the morning, one in the afternoon—but they haven’t been advertised much, so only have about 5 kids at each. Varying ages, varying levels of English. Somehow I can’t convince the library to separate the groups by age and ability. Well, it will be interesting. I decided today that I am going to try to incorporate some kind of info about America into each group, because everyone here—like the rest of the world of course—knows of Americans through a few movies, so they think we are all rich, for one thing. Got talking last week how only women are school teachers here, so I put together a little slide show on women’s jobs in America, showing several nontraditional women’s occupations.
My friend from Peace Corps training, Debbie, who lives in a city about a six-hour bus ride from here, came down for the weekend. First time she has visited, and we had a great time. Took her on my favorite hike up the bluffs near my home, visited my neighbors, and then Sunday went down to Yalta, the famous resort on the Black Sea. In the 1800’s it was a playground for the Russian czars—Nicholas II built a palace there—and during the Soviet times it became a “resort for the working people.” Today is continues to be the most popular spot in Crimea, with thousands of tourists every season, mostly from Ukraine and Russia. The waterfront is what I imagine Atlantic City to be like (or rather a more shabby version)—a long promenade along the sea with beaches, boats, restaurants, stores, kiosks selling all kinds of stuff. The setting is incredible beautiful—steep mountains rise up from the water, and the town is built on the slopes. I’ll post a few pictures, but they really don’t convey the beauty of it (just the tackiness!). We took a trolley bus down—the world’s longest trolley bus—and it lumbered along at a slow pace—took about 3 hours. On the way back, we took a marshuka (small bus)—about half the time. Apparently, we had some illegal passengers on the marshuka, because there were people standing in the aisle, and at some point the bus driver said something, and then they all kneeled down out of sight and Debbie pointed out a guard station of some kind we were passing. Don’t exactly know who was making the money on it—the bus driver or the bus company—but I imagine there was some money passing hands somewhere.
While we were walking along the waterfront, we heard a speech over a loudspeaker and then the Ukrainian national anthem, and then what we realized was the president of Ukraine being introduced. There was a crowd to see him, but many people seemed uninterested and just passed on by. There is a presidential election coming up in January, and there are four main contenders, including the very unpopular current president, but there is much apathy. Everyone I have talked to seems so cynical, feeling that nothing will make a difference in the current state of the country, that the government is so corrupt. One of the front runners in the current campaign is the candidate who almost got elected in 2004 via a rigged election which triggered the protests called the Orange Revolution. How disheartening to think of him ending up being president. The Orange Revolution, at the time at least, seemed a leap forward for the Ukrainian people, that they had had enough of the corruption of the political system, but now it seems to have gone sour. The economy is in such a terrible state—Ukraine is the hardest hit European country by the economic crisis—but every other day there is a news story about a scandal in the government and the various parties are constantly bickering and unable to accomplish much of anything. (Not unlike our government at times, of course.)
Just got off the phone with my PCV friend Jud who is going to come down for a visit in a couple of weeks. It’s late and I want to try and post some pictures, so I’m signing off for now. Love to you all.