Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Solstice Eve in Crimea

Just checked my blog and see it has been almost two weeks since I did a post--result of my computer dying and no internet access at home. (Hopefully I will get my computer back today or tomorrow). It is Monday morning, and I am at the library, going a bit crazy. Another person has moved into our office—why, I don’t know—and now there are five of us in here, and it is pretty crammed and chaotic with comings and goings. Hard to think, much less get anything done. And the energy feels very stressed. As I understand it, there is a government audit happening in January, and everyone is wound up about it. My three times a week English class for four of the staff got reduced to two, and now it has been cancelled until “after the holidays.”
And about the holidays here in Ukraine: The really big holiday is New Year’s—“novie gode.” That is when the family gathering, big feast, gift giving all happens. Santa Claus comes in the form of St. Nicholas I believe, and people decorate “Christmas” trees. It happens on Dec. 31st like in America, and at midnight the president comes on all the TV stations and gives a welcome to the New Year. Plus there are fireworks, all night gatherings, champagne toasting, partying in the streets, etc. Or so I have been told—will have to report on what really happens, at least in my part of this world.
Christmas is observed on January 7th, the Orthodox Christian date. It is not such a big holiday, and in the Crimean Tatar community it is, of course, not celebrated at all. Pretty much everything closes between New Year’s and January 7th, and there is much partying. A lot of PCV’s take this time to travel and maybe I will do that next year, but this year I wanted to be here in my community and hopefully be part of the celebrations. I do have presents planned for my neighbors and assume I will end up at their houses on New Year’s Eve, but which house and when and how to negotiate all of that does make me a little nervous. Just got to relax around it and figure it will get worked out in whatever way it is meant to. My American Christmas Eve and Christmas will be pretty much business as usual, though I will be having dinner on the 24th with a fellow volunteer who is heading out of town. And that weekend there is a party at one of the PCV’s sites which I think I will go to.
It has been snowing all over Ukraine and apparently causing a lot of havoc in various places. But here in Crimea we have been having rain, a little snow which quickly melts, and ferocious winds. Apparently this is par for the course for winter in Crimea, though usually there is some snow. Serdar keeps hoping. I do miss the snow, miss skiing, miss being out in the woods in that beautiful low winter light casting shadows on the snow. The rain let up for a bit yesterday, so I went for a walk and headed up into the forest and then out onto the bluffs. The distant mountain peaks were covered in snow—gave my spirits a lift. I, of course, immediately began pondering how I could get to that snow and where I could find some cross country skis. The skiing is probably not possible—apparently there is some skiing here on the highest mountain, but no cross country skiing and no place to rent any kind of skis. But maybe I will figure out a way to go there and least tramp around in the snow.
I am in the midst of several grant writing tasks, so it is probably good that I am not going anywhere over New Year’s. It is a struggle, as always, to communicate enough to know exactly what I am supposed to be writing, but now I feel that if I can get the gist of the meaning, I can take if from there. I have quit trying to be true to their words for the most part, because the translation available is just not adequate enough. This experience certainly has given me an insight on how hard it must be to do literary translations—how do you take the beauty of the written word and translate it into another language and retain that beauty? What a deep understanding one must have of a language to accomplish such a task.
Saturday was my six month anniversary here in Crimea, a marker along this journey. Several of my PCV friends refer to the marker as how much time is left in their Peace Corps service—18 months for the people in my group—and there seems to be a sense of relief that it is going fast and they are getting through it. But for me, I feel almost a sense of panic—a fourth of my time here gone and I feel I have accomplished so little; the hopes/expectations I had for my language knowledge at this point haven’t been met; but most of all, I think how can I possibly leave my neighbors when my time here is done? Always I try to put these thoughts away and concentrate on the present, but the grief I feel at the thought of never seeing Neshet and Lenora and Serdar and Safie ever again makes me know how attached I have become to them. But I also feel that they will somehow stay in my life. Serdar, for sure, will make it to America, and I know I will come back. And sometimes I think of staying here if there was work I could do. IF I become fluent in the language—and that is a big if. I go from hopeful to totally discouraged about my language learning progress. I had some notion that I would just be able to chatter away by this point. I guess because people here gave me that idea, and also some of the other PCV’s seem to have learned very quickly. But it will be slower for me, I know now. I don’t think I have much of an aptitude for language learning. But I keep plugging away and feel joy at every new word I recognize and say.
Tonight is the longest night of the year, and then the sun will start its slow journey back. I think of my friends in Minneapolis celebrating the solstice as we do every year and know how close we all are, despite the miles that separate us. Much love to all of you on this Winter Solstice in Crimea.

1 comment:

  1. Barb, in Ratushinskaya's "Grey is the Color of Hope," where she writes about her time in the Gulag, she says that on new year's, the Ukrainian woman she was close to in prison introduced her to a Ukrainian custom of sitting in a sauna and then running naked into the snow--I can't remember why now, but I'll be curious to know if on any of these key dates there's racing into the cold night air in the altogether!