Thursday, November 19, 2009

My 62nd Birthday in Ukraine, Part I

It’s a rainy dark Thursday afternoon. My counterparts at the library took off for a meeting, so I left early to go home and do some work, though I haven’t quite gotten started. But I will. There is so much to do, sometimes I get in that do-nothing-because-I-am- overwhelmed mode—I don’t know where to start! But I have to remember that many, many times I felt that at the bookstore, and, of course, it all eventually got done, so I just have to take a deep breath, and get started.
A little rundown on what I am doing these days, since mostly I talk about my weekend hiking excursions. Because of the high (relatively) cost of housing here in Simferopol, I am working with three sites, instead of the usual one or two, because they all put money towards my housing (as does the Peace Corps and now, me). It seemed manageable at first, but now it is starting to feel a little out of control, though there is nothing I want to give up doing. Three mornings a week I teach a small English class to some of my co-workers at the Gasprinsky Library. One day a week I conduct two English clubs for kids at the Childrens’ Library, and one day a week (starting this week) I conduct an English club at the Crimean Tatar University for university students and adults. All of which take a lot of preparation, especially since I have zero experience in any of this. I am also working with the artists on two grants and with the Gasprinsky Library on a grant. Plus I continue to research funding ideas. My current research is in the Islamic world because apparently there is a lot of money in some places (like Dubai) for Islamic cultural projects. And then there is the one afternoon a week I spend with my Russian tutor. Actually, I only spend a couple of hours with her, but it takes a half hour to get out to her place and a hour to get home. So there you have it, my life in a nutshell that is sort of making me nuts!!
But what I really want to write about is my birthday weekend which was last weekend. My first birthday in Crimea. Birthdays are a big deal here, so I anticipated something happening, though I wasn’t sure what and Ukrainians are not very into advance planning. Somehow everything just seems to happen. So here it is, Saturday morning, the day of my birthday, and I still don’t really know what I will be doing. I do know that PCV Grace is going to show up around noon so we can go hiking the next day, and that she does. We head down to the bazaar to do some food shopping and run into Lenora, who gives me a big birthday hug and says to come over in the evening to celebrate. Hooray! A plan! And then later in the afternoon, my other favorite neighbors, Maya and Siyare, came over to have some tea and cookies (which luckily I thought of to get at the bazaar in case they showed up), and brought me a little present. Dima, a young (22) Russian friend of Grace’s, showed up later with flowers for me, and we all went over to Neshet and Lenora’s, where Lenora had prepared a big feast—pizza with chicken, cheese, and tomatoes; a fish, onion, and mayonnaise kind of pie (I know it sounds awful but it really is tasty); various tomatoe and eggplant type relishes; mashed potatoes; and many other treats. Not a Crimean Tatar dinner, but very tasty. Plus she made a great fresh apple cake for dessert. It was a very fun evening, and since Dima is quite fluent in English, we had a really good interpreter.
The next day was our hiking trip we had planned to Eski Kermen, one of the cave cities, and supposedly the most interesting. Serdar, Grace, and I headed out about 7:15 am, met Sam, another PCV, at the bus station and took off. Two bus rides got us to the small village nearest Eski Kermen, and then it was a 6 km walk. But it was a beautiful walk through the rolling pastures as we made our way to the steep bluffs. Eski Kermen, built in the 6th century, is located high on the top of one of the bluffs, with wonderful views of the valleys and distant mountains. Like all the cave cities of Crimea, it was built on the bluff as a natural fortress to defend the town against invaders. There were many caves hollowed out of the limestone walls, multi levels and rooms, windows looking out into the distance. There were holes in the ceiling to catch the rain and to funnel the smoke of fires. Some of the caves were used for burial, some were churches. Supposedly, there are more than 400 caves at Eski Kermen, though we only saw a few.
There was more to explore, but while sitting in one of the caves having lunch, it started to pour down rain. I was the only one with rain gear, so we waited out the rain a bit, but when it was obvious it wasn’t going to let up, we took off anyhow and continued to explore. However, everyone got increasingly wet and the wind picked up, so we decided to head back. Dima had come out to meet us, but we were all too wet and cold to continue to explore. As it was, we missed the earlier bus back to town and had to wait 1 ½ hours in the cold and dark for the next bus. Finally got to the bus station in Simferopol around 7pm, the bus to Ak Mechet (where I live) wasn’t running, so we had to take another bus and follow Serdar on some back trail to our houses. By the time we got home, we were all very exhausted, but everyone agreed, it was a great day, and that we had to go back and explore when we had more light and it wasn’t raining!
Well, I wanted to report on the rest of my birthday celebration at the library on Monday, but I think I have run out of steam, so that will have to wait until my next post. Plus I need to get some dinner made (potato soup) and some studying done, as I meet with my tutor tomorrow.
Love to all from this now old-enough-to-retire hiking babe.

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