Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A cold and quiet week

Tuesday afternoon, sitting at my desk at the Gasprinsky Library, trying to ignore (unsuccessfully) how cold I am. About a week ago, the weather went from the beautiful, warm, sunny weather of our hike to Bolshai Canyon to cold, windy, overcast skies. Today when I woke up there was a dusting of snow on the ground, and all day there has been a steady cold drizzle. All of which would be tolerable if one could come to work and be warm. But such is not the case. Apparently, the city still has not turned on the gas that goes to the commercial and apartment buildings. Both of my libraries are very cold, and the homes of my office mates’ also have no heat, though they seem to deal with it using space heaters. I do have heat in my house, which is such a treat to come home to. But I’m having a hard time working—I have on long underwear, boots, a wool turtleneck sweater and a heavy wool cardigan, fingerless gloves. And I am still cold. But I try to keep quiet about it. Everyone is definitely saying they are cold, but there isn’t a whole lot of griping about it, just an unhappy acceptance and a “who knows” attitude about when the heat might come on. I would love to go home and work. I know I would get a lot more done, but no one else is bailing out, I see. The wimpy American going home because of the cold is just not the image I want to project. So here I sit….
The last ten days have had its ups and downs. One of the highlights of last week was the birthday of Refika, one of my office mates. There was quite a hoopla surrounding it at the library. I don’t know if that is the typical celebration, or if it was something to do with Refika and her position here. Anyhow, in the morning there was cakes and coffee for the whole staff as we gathered in the reading room, and the director and other people gave her flowers and offered toasts. And then over our lunch break, she and another woman in the office spread out an entire lunch for the four of us in the office, including sweet wine. Quite the treat, though something made me a bit sick later in the day. It was a lovely celebratory day, and I felt so included.
Another wonderful event of last week was a presentation of a new book published by a local Crimean Tatar publisher. The reading room was packed with people, including a television station filming the event. As best as I could tell, the book was a collection of old Crimean Tatar music that someone had collected. Some very old Crimean Tatar men were in the audience (men who would have been living in Crimea before the deportation) and one of them gave a speech at the beginning. Everything was in the language of Crimean Tatar, so I didn’t have a chance at understanding, not that I would have caught that much of the Russian. But it didn’t really matter, because the real event was the music. There was a small band—clarinet and what looked like traditional instruments—a drum that reminded me of the Irish drums and 2 stringed instruments, one with a very long neck, the other about the size of a mandolin and held upright. There were three singers—a man in his 50’s/60’s, a woman also of that age in traditional dress, a younger woman. They all had wonderful voices, and after singing solo, they joined in the end in a haunting song that many people in the audience knew and sang with them. I sat there thinking of the ancientness of this music and culture and how eternal music can seem as it unites us across the barriers of language and culture. I felt very thankful and privileged to be there.
The rest of the week was my usual—working three days at the Gasprinsky Library on various projects, mostly a grant for one of the artists; one day at the Children’s Library where some kids showed up for the English Clubs despite it being a school holiday; and Friday my day of meeting with Enver and then my Russian tutor.
I had my first weekend in quite a while with no visitors and no plans. The weather wasn’t conducive to hiking much, so I spent it reading, doing laundry (love all my heat pipes to dry my clothes on), food shopping, cooking, visiting some with the neighbors. I did manage a 2-hour hike Sunday afternoon on the nearby bluffs, being blasted by the wind, but still loving being there. And a funny thing happened. A guy passed me and I actually said something to him in Russian without even thinking about it! And he understood me, and I understood him! All I said was cold, huh? And he said he was fine, but it was the fact that it just came out without me making a plan of what to say. So I am progressing, slowly like the tortoise, but that is my normal pace, I have to keep remembering. I do reach the top of the mountain (usually), it just takes me a while.
A down side of my work right now, is that both the library and the artists continue to have this expectation that I will find them grant money, and are disappointed and/or angry (in the case of one of the artists) that I haven’t. Nadjye spends her days searching the internet for grants, something I have already done, and I want to say, “don’t you think we should concentrate on writing the grants that we do have a chance of getting instead of these endless fruitless searches?” (especially when she can’t read most of what she is looking at) But I know she is under pressure from the director to come up with big money. I just don’t think it is out there, and I have run out of places to look. I would just like to get on with the work of it.
And then there is Ceitabla, one of the artists, who I haven’t seen for weeks, but sends me emails telling me how disappointed he is, and isn’t this what I am supposed to be doing as a PCV, and in the meantime doesn’t do his end of the work of writing a grant. I really want to just start ignoring him, but I know that isn’t a helpful approach. Many times it just feels so impossible to communicate about all of this. He sends his emails in Russian, I put them through google translator, and then write my response and also run it through google translator. Who knows what we are really saying to each other?? But I do think we get the gist, if not the finer points, and the gist is definitely that I haven’t lived up to his expectations. He clearly had unrealistic expectations, but still, it isn’t a good feeling. Hard not to get defensive. But, as always, it is good practice in…patience, not taking it on, just letting him be what he is.
Have written enough for now, I think. Maybe I will try a little research (or maybe not) before I head out into the colder night and on home. Last night I got home much later after helping the director’s daughter whom I like a great deal, teach an English class. It was very cold and dark when I got home, after walking quite a ways from the bus stop, and all I wanted to do was curl up in my warm house. But a couple of minutes after I arrived, my neighbor came over and invited me to her house. And because I never turn down invitations, over I went, and what a treat it turned out to be. Much of her extended family was there—all Crimean Tatar, some who now live in Russia, and it was so interesting to be with them, listening to them talk (I could understand a little and there were a couple of sort of English speakers). I was clearly the American on display, but I didn’t mind. Besides, Maya fed me some of her great plov and there was some shots of Russian whiskey that warmed me up. A good time—
Here is a link to a NY Times article recently about the Crimean Tatars. What a surprise to see it—

With love from Crimea.
Ps. I posted some pics from the children’s library.

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