Sunday, November 29, 2009

Birthdays and Thanksgiving/Muslim holiday

A rainy Sunday afternoon. Good day to be inside, get caught up on my blog, make some soup (borscht), study, get prepared for my English classes and clubs this week, work on a couple of grants. Hmmm…maybe I have too high expectations for this afternoon.
But I do want to get caught up with my blog. My birthday celebration continued with a celebration of sorts at the library Monday morning. It is the tradition here for the birthday person to provide sweets and coffee for the whole staff, and then a lunch for one’s office mates. I got the lunch together the night before despite being exhausted from quite the day of hiking—traditional American food of potato salad and pasta salad, plus bread, cheese, and fruit. I decided I would get the cakes, etc. once I got to the library. However, it turned out, sadly enough, that the father of one of the women on the staff had died the night before, so several people were going to the funeral , and we wouldn’t have the big staff birthday gathering. But at some point in the morning, most of the staff did come in my office with flowers which the director presented to me with a little speech (also part of the tradition), and we still had a nice luncheon in the office, complete with some wine! I was sad about the death of Zarema’s father, though. I had met him when I went to her house for dinner. Even though she is only 33, he was in his early 80’s, not uncommon among the Tatar families, which meant he had seen much tragedy in his lifetime, as he would have been a young man when the deportation happened. He had been sick and died during the night, and apparently it is Muslim tradition that if someone dies during the night, they must be buried before noon the next day, unless family have to travel, which is why the funeral was so soon. Zarema is one of my favorite people in the library, and I feel so bad for her. The pain of her loss is so evident on her face.
The following weekend (November 22nd) was Serdar’s 16th birthday. He made a point of making sure I was going to come to his house to celebrate, which made me feel good. He went bowling with his friends during the afternoon (yes, there is a (as in one) bowling alley here in Simferopol), and then the dinner was in the evening and another neighbor friend joined us. As is often the case, I didn’t quite get the information correct and thought we weren’t actually having dinner, so I ate dinner before coming over. But, of course, we did end up having a big dinner complete with Lenora’s home made French fries, Serdar’s favorite. I always seem to be showing up for meals when I have already eaten. But I always eat anyhow, as it would offend them not to. Sharing food is a very big deal around here. However, I did tell Lenora that I had misunderstood and eaten before I came over, which is a sign of how comfortable I feel with them.
This week passed so quickly. Monday I discovered that I somehow had lost my bank card, which is how we get our money here. It is a cash economy and credit cards are rarely used, and I’m not sure they even have checks. So my cash card is my link to having money. I was pretty good about not obsessing about it all day. I kept thinking that perhaps I would find it once I got home, but no luck. So I dug out the paperwork, found the number to call to block the card and luckily they spoke English, made arrangements to go to the bank with someone who could translate for me, and the next day took care of it. I still don’t have a new card, but it should show up this week. So not too bad, plus it meant I got to spend some time with Arzy (the translator), whom I like a great deal. She helped me shop at the bazaar for a new umbrella. And that umbrella led to a realization of my aging, because when I got home and was looking at it, I realized I didn’t have the strength in my hands to close it easily. I took it back to the woman at the bazaar the next day thinking maybe something was wrong with it, but no, it was my hand. She could easily close it. When she saw I struggled with it, she said something about “problema” and then pointed at her hands, saying Russian hands, and then found me a different kind of umbrella that was easy to close. Ah well, at least my feet are going strong.
The major event of this week in the American world is that it was Thanksgiving. In my world here, it was also a holiday, the Muslim holiday of Kurban Baram, or the Festival of Sacrifice, which is at the end of the Mecca pilgrimage. If I understand it correctly, it is when Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son for God, but because he showed such great love, God told him to sacrifice an animal instead. Or something like that—a Biblical scholar I am not. Anyhow, it is traditional that Muslims slaughter a sheep or goat and give it to their family and friends and poor people. Or give whatever they can afford. In my case, I think it translated to receiving some yummy pumpkin stuffed dumplings (called manti) that evening from one of my neighbors.
Thanksgiving Day also found me attending my first ever Muslim religious service. In the library in the morning they said the “mullah” was coming for a prayer service at the library. All the women were busy finding head coverings—Zarema had brought several scarves for people. They were assuming, I think , that I wouldn’t want to go, but I did and used a bandana to cover my head. The mullah turned out to be a young man dressed in a business suit with a small fez on his head--how living here among these Muslims has attacked my stereotypes of Islam. Before that day, when I thought of a mullah, I thought of a white-turbaned, long-bearded man. But his singing of the prayer in Arabic was familiar to me from listening to the call to prayers, and I found it very meditative. After the service, when we had sweets and coffee as we seem to do after every event at the library, I found out that it was a prayer service for the people who had died in one’s life.
Other events of this week: Tuesday was a reception at the library in honor of a famous Crimean Tatar writer who had died the previous year. There were cookies, cake, and tea and coffee every where, including our office, and many older Crimean Tatars came to the library. They were all speaking Crimean Tatar and I couldn’t understand anything of what was being said, but it was wonderful to watch their faces. And then yesterday (Saturday), I spent much of the day with my neighbors. I was hanging out my laundry in the morning, when Server (my landlord) said something about guests. I thought about it and decided he was inviting me over when their guests came as it was relatives I have met. It was a gorgeous day and I really wanted to go hiking, but decided I should stick around and see if I was correct. Well, finally I decided that maybe I was wrong and put my shoes on to take off, when Maya knocked on the door and said to come over. I was so glad I had waited because she would have been so offended if I hadn’t been there, but I really need to get these invites figured out. Had a lovely few hours with them, including talking with the somewhat English speaking 13-year-old granddaughter, and a tasty meal of Crimean Tatar dishes.
And then last evening I spent a couple of hours with Lenora and Neshet and Serdar and Safie. Neshet was showing me old pictures of his family. His parents were born in 1924 and 1928, so they were grown when the deportation happened. He was born quite a bit later—he is 44. His father never made it back to Crimea and died in Uzbekistan and his mother died shortly after returning to Crimea. There was a picture of them the day they got to Uzbekistan and another picture of his mother with Serdar as a baby. How ancient and sad her face looked. I also learned that Lenora, who I thought was an only child, had a sister and brother. Her sister died at two years of age from an illness, and her brother died at eighteen from a “catastrophe,” which I assume means some kind of accident. Her parents are still living—I have met them both—and this knowledge makes me think of them too, and the tragedies they have faced in their lives. More and more, as my knowledge of their world increases, I am feeling a part of Neshet and Lenora’s family, and it is such a gift to me.
Well, I have managed to go into a third page this time, so I think I will end here. Nothing like a rainy afternoon to spend a lot of time ruminating. But I need to get some work done, and also some kind of walk in before the darkness comes (4:00 these days). Much love to you all.

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