Monday, October 26, 2009

Pictures from Bolsahi Canyon

The Grand Canyon of Crimea

A cold night in Crimea, a chilling north wind blowing on the way home. Daylight savings time went off this past weekend, so now it is truly dark when I emerge from the library and make my way to the bus stop. By the time I get to my road, the moon is out and all my neighbors are tucked into their houses. I’m glad to be in my little house and out of the wind, even though I still don’t have heat. But I use the PC provided space heater in my bedroom/office/dining room, and I am pretty cozy.
Last weekend, though, the weather was still balmy and beautiful. Sirdar and I had talked about trying to go hiking at a Crimean park called Bolshai Canyon, the “grand canyon” of Crimea. We were unsure if the marshukas actually went there, but we thought we would give it a try. A couple of days later I went over with the map, and Neshet said if the weather was good, then he would drive and we would all go. So that’s what we did, which was a good thing, because when I was there, I realized that the buses don’t go anywhere near it.
Bolshai Canyon is not what you think of when you think of the Grand Canyon in America. It is a deep wooded ravine that follows a tumbling creek climbing up through a steep walled canyon to a beautiful pool, deep enough to swim in. The trees had all turned to their fall colors, the air was warm, and I was with the people I love the most here—Neshet, Lenora, Sirdar and Saphiye. We had a grand time. When we got up to the pool, there were people there, so we scrambled up the steep hillside and perched ourselves somewhat precariously on logs and had a picnic. I had brought bread, cheese, and tomatoes, but they, of course, had brought all kinds of food—a roasted chicken and the wonderful Crimean Tatar break baked over an open fire.
Neshet and Sirdar wanted to try and get to the top of the canyon walls and we tried to follow them, but Lenora just had on slip-on leather shoes and was having too much trouble with her footing. So she didn’t want to go on and Saphiye and I ended up stayed with her. We made our way back down to the creek and hung out at the pool, waiting for them to come back down. It took awhile, but they did eventually show up. Sirdar said they had made it to the top, but it was “pretty scary.”
We followed the trail back out, drove home, and then they invited me over for fish grilled outside over an open fire pit. It was dark by then, the moon was out, and it was just kind of wonderful, standing with them in the back of their house, looking out over the other houses to the distant fields lit by the moon, talking and sharing our lives. How lucky I am to have them in my life.
Here is a poem I want to share with you by Cengiz Dagci, who is a Crimean Tatar writer living in London—

Aren't Crimean

a tree which is

supposed to die,

not to get greener

and not to give

new branches?

Since the day that

lost their

there wasn't any day

passed without

chopping the

of this tree, but

again new branches

came out of its body.

These branches were

not allowed to grow

and were chopped

again. But branches

came out again.

At the end,

this tree is chopped

at its root,

and thrown away

on a lonely, desert

But again new

come out of this body

and get longer and

longer, and they

to the land where

this tree was planted

one thousand years

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cave City of Tepe Kerman

TV and a cave city

It’s been an eventful last few days. Friday I did a television interview at the Gasprinsky Library (the Crimean Tatar Library). A local television station wanted to do a program on Peace Corps Volunteers in the area, so they came and interviewed me and another volunteer who lives and teaches in a small town near Simferopol. I went over to my neighbors to watch it tonight, and I think it turned out pretty good, as best I could tell. I was interviewed in English and it was translated into Russian for the show. They showed a lot of the library which seems like great publicity for them. I hope they will be happy about it—will find out tomorrow.

Someone who is NOT happy is one of my artists from the NGO I work with one day a week. The NGO is basically two artists who want funding for their projects. One of them I work with weekly, and we seem to be progressing okay, having applied for one grant which we didn’t get, but now working on another grant. The other artist, however, I see less frequently, and he seems to think I can get him $40,000 to produce a Crimean Tatar traditional music festival and as soon as possible. I tried to lower his expectations to a level that I thought it was possible to find funding, but clearly I wasn’t successful. This weekend he sent me an email stating his disappointment, that as a Peace Corps volunteer I am supposed to find them funding, etc. etc. I knew he had been given false expectations and wasn’t very happy about how things were going, so I wasn’t too surprised about the letter. The real problem is that they contribute towards my housing cost, and if they no longer want to work with me, there will be that much less I have for housing, which is already a problem. And, of course, I can’t really explain or discuss much of this with him. I did return his letter using a translation program. Hopefully it at least gave a facsimile of what I was trying to say. You never know with those programs. Tomorrow I will show his letter to Najye and see what she has to say. She is friends with them and signed them on as one of the organizations I would work with. And probably told them I could get them funding, as the Peace Corps is pretty careful not to say that. Always an adventure, here in the Peace Corps.

But on to happier events. Which is this great hike I went on Saturday with my young PCV friend who was here for the weekend and Sirdar, my neighbor kid friend. We decided to go to the cave city of Tepe Kermen (Fortress on the Summit), though we only had a vague idea of how to get there. We took a bus to the nearest town, and then got on a very dilapidated bus that went by the village nearest the cave city. A large group of backpackers got on which we weren’t too thrilled about, but it turned out they were going in that general direction and showed us the trail up to Tepe Kermen. We never would have found it on our own. It was quite a climb to get there, but the cave rooms were so interesting and the views spectacular. Like many of the cave cities, Tepe Kermen was inhabitated between the 5th and 15th centuries by different groups of people. The mountains of Crimea tend to have a number of plateaus on their summits, so they were easily defendable places to live. And the soft limestone made it possible to carve out dwellings. In this cave city there was a Christian altar carved into one of the caves.

While exploring the caves, we encountered a group of six hikers. Turns out they were led by a 64-year-old woman, who with her 27-year-old daughter has hiked all over Crimea. The daughter spoke pretty fluent English which is how we started talking with them, and we ended having lunch together and then followed them on a route back to the town. Up and down the trails, the 64-year-old led the way at a pace that even 16-year-old Sirdar had trouble keeping up with. And what a spirit she was—didn’t want to stick to a wider road, but wanted to go off “into nature.” We eventually ended up on the edge of a high cliff, where lo and behold, there were ancient steps carved down to the forests below. It felt safe—there was a handrail to hold on to—so down we went and then bush wacked through the forest to the monastery near Chufut Kale that I had been to only a few days previously with Jud. What a great time we had hiking with them, and of course, when we all got back to Simferopol, I made sure I got their contact information. I so hope I get to do more hiking with her—a kindred spirit in Crimea.

So that’s it for now. Wonder what this week will bring…

Love from Crimea.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Some pics from my travels with Jud

Sorry--I can't seem to get the captions in the right place. But you will figure it out!
The Khan Palace in Bakhchysaray
The Khan Palace

English grafiti in the village of Gursof

The sea in front of Chekov's dacha
Lavidia Palace

Travelling in Crimea

It’s a cold Wednesday night, after some beautiful warm weather these last few days. My house is so snug though—I hear the wind blowing, but nary a draft. No heat….but…I do think it might get turned on sometime soon. Until then, it is lots of layers, and I do have a Peace Corps provided space heater if it gets really cold. Not sure if I am going to be able to stay in my little house. My neighbors the landlords want more rent because of increase in gas and electricity, but the Peace Corps is only willing to kick in a little more. I am willing to put in some out of my living allowance, but I can’t do too much, and I don’t know if the total will be sufficient enough increase to satisfy the landlord. Then what, I don’t know. There really aren’t cheap apartments here at all, which is the reason there are no PCV’s here besides me. There is plenty they could be doing, but the organizations can’t afford the housing. The Peace Corps gives us about 400 hrv towards housing, but here it is at least 1000 (about $125) a month, and the organizations have to make up the difference. I hope this doesn’t ultimately mean I end up living with someone, though I suppose that is a real possibility. I think I would really have to feel okay with the situation in order to do that. If I have a choice, which I may not. Well, I see I am starting down one of my endless speculation roads, so I will go on to cheerier reports.
Once again I did some Crimean touring, this time partially as the guide. Jud, a fellow PCV that I became friends with in training, came down for a few days to see some of Crimea. He stayed with me, and I took a couple of days off from the library. He came in on Saturday, and we walked around the city—down the lovely (as long as you are able to overlook the ubiquitous trash, something I have gotten quite good at) parkway along the river that winds through the center. Stopped at one of my favorite bookstores which sells books mainly for people teaching English, and then walked through the section of the city that is cordoned off from cars, pass the obligatory Lenin statue. It is quite a lovely city, as I saw it through Jud’ s eyes. Later we went out to my house, walked around a bit out there, had some leftover plov my neighbor had brought over the previous night, and then dropped in on my other neighbors for a chat.
Sunday we took the bus down to Yalta on the coast and found an old hotel (used to be a brothel in the 1800’s) at dirt cheap off season rates. Went to see Lavidia Palace, the summer home of the last czar and where the Yalta Conference was held in which Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill met to divide up postwar Europe. It’s quite an imposing structure overlooking the sea, though we took the back way in and thought the first building we saw was the palace. Turned out to be some kind of nursing home. We do have lots of pictures of it, though. Spent the evening walking around the waterfront in Yalta, having dinner on a replica of a Greek galleon built out over the water-very touristy, but pretty tasty, and when I got cold they gave me a fuzzy blanket to wrap up in!
The next day we took a bus to a nearby village on the sea which is where Chekov had his dacha—a little one room cottage which has been lovingly preserved. It had a beautiful little rocky beach in front where Jud took the opportunity for a swim despite the cold water, while I hung out, contemplating the sea. Walked the steep winding streets of the village, and then caught a bus that took us all the way back to Simferopol. Decided to have dinner in the city and found an Indian restaurant that I had heard about which is located in the dorm of the medical university here where a lot of foreign students go. In our quest to find the place, we ended up being escorted there by a student from New Delhi and had dinner with him and his buddies. A great connection—they invited me to some Hindu festival this weekend, which I might go to.
The next day we headed out to Bakhchysaray to see the Khan’s Palace and the cave city of Chufat Kale, which I had been to before. The palace was beautiful and very interesting. It housed the Crimean Khanate, the governing body of the Crimean Tatars, when they ruled Crimea from about 1500 to 1800. Part of it is still an active mosque, and we were not allowed in there, of course, but the rest has been turned into a museum with some signs in English. One of the areas of the palace was for the harem. Except for the obvious drawbacks of being in a harem, it wouldn’t be so bad to spend your days lounging around in a beautiful setting with a bunch of other women. (Nothing like seeing history through my western, modern eyes).
It’s Thursday night now and I am fading once again. Cold in my house—no heat yet—so I am huddled by the space heater. Tomorrow morning I have a television interview(!) about the Peace Corps, and then PCV friend Grace is coming for the weekend and we are off hiking on Saturday with Sirdar to another cave city, I think. Trying to do a lot of exploring before the winter everyone keeps warning me about sets in. Right now it is gorgeous here, despite the cold nights.
One thing that felt so good about this past weekend and travelling around so much, is that I was able to communicate enough with people to navigate the transportation, hotel, restaurants, etc. Jud was impressed by my language skill. However, today, my first day back at the library, it was all squashed as I struggled to communicate with anyone, and just wanted to scream by the end of the day. A very bad language day, as we say here in Crimea. But tomorrow will be better…
Love to all from my Russian and Crimean Tatar speaking life.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Mangup-Kale Cave City

Red Cave and the Ambassador

Acting ambassador James Petit, Nadzhiye, PCV Grace, and me

My artist friend Enver and me in the cave

The camel family

On the walk up

A pool in the cave

Touring Crimea and meeting the ambassador

Sunday evening. I’m exhausted from a day of hiking, but a wonderful day it was. This week has been chocked full of events, it seems. Wednesday was Librarian Day in Ukraine—there are all kinds of holidays in Ukraine—and both my libraries closed for the day and went on excursions. Which meant I had to choose to go to a village down on the Black Sea or a cave tour in the mountains. Ah, poor me….anyhow, I decided to go on the cave tour even though I really wanted to go to the Black Sea because the cave tour was with my primary site—the Crimean Tatar Library—and I wanted to hang out with those folks. It was a great day. As an added bonus, one of the artists I work with also came, as he is good friends with Nadzhiye. We all gathered at a bus stop on the eastern edge of the city early in the morning, got on a marshuka the library had chartered, and took off for the cave. The entrance was pretty commercial, complete with camels (to rent for the long hike up to the cave), a Mongolian yurt (an authentic one-interesting to see the construction, being a yurt love), and various stick-your-head-in the picture photo ops—Ukrainians are VERY into photos.
It was a fairly long hike up to the cave through the forests filled with fall color, a really lovely hike with beautiful views as we got higher. The cave was at the base of a cliff and was very interesting, though not as spectacular as the cave I visited when I first came here. It had a large river running through it, and apparently there was a place where you could follow it for a kilometer (swimming) into some vast caverns. Now that would have been interesting…but of course, not something we were doing. We had a guide, but I could not understand much of what he was saying. Well to be truthful, I couldn’t understand anything he was saying. But I enjoyed following along with everyone and being amazed by the odd formations you find in underground places.
Afterwards, we hiked to a beautiful waterfall and climbed around on the rocks. Or at least some of us did. Here I am all outfitted in my Keen hiking boots, and while most of the people at least had some form of sneaker on, Nadzhiye had on her usual very flimsy looking slip on shoes. Which she supplemented with wool socks for the cave tour. But we are crossing streams, walking up gravel paths, etc. and she seemed to do okay.
Lunch consisted of all of us sitting in a circle and everyone laying out the food they brought to share. I had figured out that would be the case (I am learning!) and brought a bunch of food. Then we headed back home after a final photo session with the camel family.
It was so nice to spend the day with the library staff, to get to know them a bit better. And as a bonus, one of the women I rode back with on the bus who lives out in Ak Mechet where I live, invited me to her home to meet her kids and in-laws who live with them. Her husband had come on the tour with us, so I had met him. I am always tired after spending a day of only speaking and trying to understand Russian, and so often, I just want to go home to my place and be alone. But never do I turn down an invitation, and it is always the right decision. One of the unexpected things that happened at Alina’s house is that her mother-in-law got out her photo album at my request and started showing me her old photos, some of which were before the deportation in 1944. What was especially interesting is that where I live was basically open land 20 years ago when the Crimean Tatars starting coming back and building houses, and they had pictures of that time.
This weekend my PCV hiking friend, Grace, came on Friday. We met up in the center, had dinner at one of the Crimean Tatar restaurants, and then came out to Ak Mechet and went over and visited with my neighbors for a bit. They love talking with Grace because she can actually talk with them pretty well, unlike me at this point. Saturday we met up with a PCV from my group, Jason, and had lunch and walked around town a bit. That evening some of us PCV’s were invited to a reception with the acting US Ambassador to Ukraine at a fancy hotel and then to a concert with American jazz performers. I had invited Nadizhye to come with me, and she was pretty excited about it. I took a picture of her with the Ambassador, and we had a nice time hanging out at the reception. She kept pointing out all the Crimean dignitaries who where there, including the director of our library and his wife, whom I hadn’t met before. I think it was quite the feather in Nadizhye’s cap to be there, and I was very happy to be the one to provide it. And it turns out she loves jazz, so she was more into the concert than I was and was just bopping along with the beat. Unfortunately, the singer apparently didn’t understand that the audience didn’t speak English and wasn’t going to respond to her attempts to engage them. But in the end they gave her a standing ovation (I’m sure much to her surprise).
So, the real highlight of this week was today—the hike to Mangup-Kale, one of the ancient cave cites of Crimea. Grace and I had planned this, and I invited Sirdar and Saphiye, my wonderful neighbor kids, to go with us. We got on the local bus at 7am, then got on another bus from one of the bus stations to take us to a town about 45 minutes away. There we ended up taking a taxi to the town at the beginning of the hike to the cave city, as the only bus came much later. Cost 100 hrvinia, about $12. A lot by Ukrainian standards, but it was worth it. There was a long steep trail up through a lovely woods to get to the high plateau where the cave city is. Mangup-Kale was inhabited by people from the 6th century to the 15th century. Some of the original inhabitants were Greeks. I don’t know much more than that, because what information I had is in Russian, but I do know that the Crimean Tatars apparently never lived there, and that there was a Jewish settlement at some point. We passed some moss covered stones in the woods with Hebrew writing on them. Supposedly it is the site of a Jewish cemetery, if I understood Sirdar correctly.
Up on the plateau there was a massive ancient archway built out of large stone blocks, and crumbling stone walls. The most fascinating part of the cave cities is the hallowed out caves in the cliff faces with openings framing incredible views. There are ancient steps carved into the stone to get down to the caves, but it is precarious in some places. And in one cave there was a recently placed plaque about someone who had died exploring the caves. What I find most interesting about the caves is that these were burial chambers apparently. I really would like to read more about the cave cities. There are about 20 in Crimea. Grace and I are going to try to get to another one with a Russian friend who has a car.
Well, it is Monday night now, and I am tired and not feeling too inspired in the writing department as might be apparent in the last couple of paragraphs. I want to add some pictures, so I will go ahead and post this. For those regular readers out there, I won’t be doing next week’s post until near the middle of the week because my friend Jud will be here, and we will be off exploring!
With love from Crimea.