Thursday, December 10, 2009

More birthdays in Crimea

Siyare's Birthday--Server and May, (Dad and Mom), brother Ruslan, Siyare
Siyare with her two best friends

I’m starting to get behind in my blog writing. It has been almost two weeks since my last post. I don’t have any exciting adventures to report, as my Crimea exploring days are over for awhile as the darkness and cold settle in. We have about an hour less light here than Minneapolis, which means the sun doesn’t come up until after 7 and sets a little before 4. Not enough time to travel to one of those beautiful hiking spots. And winter is starting to happen, though so far no snow and temps in the 40’s. However, maybe that is what winter means here in Crimea, though everyone keeps saying that it does indeed snow. But I read on Facebook of everyone shoveling out back home—the first snow storm of the season—and it makes me homesick. How I loved that first real snow of the winter and the beautiful blanket it laid over the city.
Last weekend I went to a meeting of PCV’s in Crimea. About ten of us came to the meeting, which for me and other folks in my area, required a 4-hour bus trip, as it was in northern Crimea. One of the PCV’s from my group is a guy in his 30’s who was in the Peace Corps first in Russian and got kicked out of there (when Russian kicked out the PC) and then again in Georgia and got kicked out of there when Russian invaded Georgia. His goal this time around is just to complete his service. He came into Simferopol on Friday night and stayed over at my place, and then we took the bus in the morning to the meeting. It was a good gathering—there sure are a lot of smart young people in the Peace Corps. I was the granny of the group, of course, older than all their mothers, I’m sure. But I feel pretty much at ease with them, except when they start talking about movies and music, and then it’s kind of like listening to Russian conversations. In other words, I don’t have a clue what they are talking about. And they all seem to be able to sleep just about anywhere. The ten of us crashed in one of the PCV’s fairly large apartment (by PC standards), which meant three rooms. I shared a room with two women and one man, though I curled up on the sofa bed in the corner, so I had the best spot. The old gal deserves something, I figured.
Northern Crimea is much different than the south. Very flat, endless farm fields. I’m not quite sure of the farm ownership now, but during Soviet times they were all collective farms. So there are vast unbroken fields. The people who worked the farms then, and now, live in the nearby villages, so you don’t see the farm houses scattered on the land like you do in American farm areas. The fields are green with what I assume is winter wheat coming up, also some fields had a very leafy plant, which I couldn’t distinguish from the bus window. Got to wondering if it was radishes, as there has been a spate of them recently in the bazaars. Though a field that big of radishes is a little hard to imagine….
My neighbor’s daughter, Siyare, turned twenty-two last week, and then Lenora and Neshet’s Safie turned twelve last Sunday. I never quite know when to go anywhere. I know I was expected at both events, or at least I assumed so as we had been talking about the birthdays, but there never was a specific invitation, which is so Ukrainian, and so hard to get used to. In America I pretty much did not go to people’s houses unless invited. But here you just show up, I think. The night of Siyare’s birthday I went over there a little after I came home from work to bring her a present. I kept angsting (not a word I know, but I’m sure you get the idea) about when to go and finally just went. Well, it turns out there was the preparations going on for some big party of Siyare’s friends and Maya (the mom) was frantically cooking and had enlisted Lenora’s help. I tried to pitch in, but seemed to be more in the way, so I just sat down and wondered what I should do and if I was invited. But I knew they would be offended if I left, so I just stayed for the whole event, and of course, it was great fun, once I relaxed and quit worrying about it all.
And then Sunday I had the same angst about when to go over for Safie’s birthday. I thought I had timed it pretty well, but when I went there, Lenora was just starting to make manti for dinner. This time I did help her, which I enjoyed. Manti are these artfully made large dumplings stuffed with meat or sometimes squash and steamed in large stacked steamers (which she had brought from Uzbekistan). Eventually some of the relatives showed up, though that seemed unplanned, also. I gave Safie earrings that my friend Robin had gotten in America—made by Navajos—and she really loved them.
Not much happening this week, and maybe that is good. Went over to Neshet and Lenora’s last night and ended up feeling so depressed about my inability to communicate very well. And I got the feeling that Neshet was feeling pretty frustrated too, though I could, of course, been totally misinterpreting him. My six-month anniversary of being here in Simferopol is coming up in another week, and I had so thought that I would know the language better than I do. But I will keep plugging away, despite the temptation to give it up, because some day I want to have real conversations with the people I have come to care about so much.
Tonight was the second meeting of the English Club I conduct at the nearby university, and I know it gave me a boost to be able to speak English (these are all fairly fluent speakers) and talk about issues. Since World AIDS Day was December 1, we spent the time talking about truths and myths concerning AIDS. It was so interesting to hear what they had to say. Ukraine has the highest HIV infection rate in Europe, and they were all aware of that.
Getting tired, I think I will end now. Much love to all.

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