It is New Year's Day, and I am trying to get the energy to write this blog post. I am, unfortunately, feeling quite lousy. Congestion, sore throat, exhaustion. Didn't feel great when I got up, though I attributed that to last night's partying—more on that later—so I decided to go for a little New Year's walk up into the forest to pay homage to my mountain, and then came back and washed my sheets (a rare occurrence). But as the day has gone on, I have been feeling worse and worse. Trying to stay warm and drink lots of fluids and hoping it is just a one-day thing.
Thinking about my last couple of weeks. Seems like much has been happening. I have two new young American friends here in Simferopol, which is nice to look forward to going into this year. One of them is the new Peace Corps volunteer here. She's great. Despite her youth she is pretty worldly having lived in Prague for a year and has a Czech boyfriend (who is coming to visit this week).
The other volunteer is the new Fulbright scholar in town, who will be here until August, studying Crimean Tatar language and how parents make the decision to send their children to one of the Crimean Tatar schools. And just like Adrienne (the new PCV), she has also lived abroad—three years in Istanbul. She is also great and will be a joy to spend time with. So I feel very blessed to have two new friends in Simferopol.
So getting back to a recount of my life here since Solstice. Christmas week was pretty festive, given that it is not a holiday here. On the 22nd there was a large gathering at the department at the university where I conduct an English club. Mostly put on by the American missionary folks here,who seem to be everywhere. They aren't too preachy, though there was a rather long winded retelling of the Christmas story. That is the first time that I have been around any of them, and they are nice folks, but I must admit, I had a pretty hard time when one of them told me they were working on translating the Bible into Crimean Tatar. However, it's the holiday season and I kept my mouth shut, though I find the notion very troubling.
Christmas Eve I had dinner after work with my PCV friend Grace who was heading out of town, Adrianne the new PCV, and our Russian friend Dima at our favorite Crimean Tatar restaurant. Christmas Day was just another work day for me, but I had a nice surprise that evening. I came home, made a little dinner of a tuna fish sandwich (from packaged tuna Debbie had given me for my birthday) and settled down to do some reading. Serdar called from next door and said to come over in a half an hour. Well, Lenora had made me a nice Christmas meal, complete with champagne and little presents—socks and chocolates. I was so touched and grateful that they had thought to try and honor my holiday. Once again, I know how blessed I am to have them in my life.
The following day, Cary, one of my favorite PCV's here in Crimea, had a holiday party at his apartment in Sovetsky, a town of 20,000 about 2 hours from here. It was a fun gathering-- there must have 20 or more of us. The only other older volunteers were a Japanese American couple in their 60's, who live in the city of Kerch on the Russian border between the Sea of Asov and the Black Sea. I had communicated with them via email (their site is also a library), so it was good to meet them. Their service is done in June, so I hope to get down there to visit with them sometime in the spring. They did not stay overnight, so once again it was me and a gaggle of mostly 20-somethings (and a couple of 30-somethings like Cary). We scatted to various apartments to spend the night. Where I was at, there were five of us in one room—two on a sofa bed, two on a thin mattress on the floor, me on chair cushions I put on the floor which wasn't too bad. Gone are the days I can share a bed with someone I barely know. Hanging out with all of them sure makes me forget how old I am, except of course when we play a game, and no one had a clue who William Kunstler is (was?). And I, of course, knew none of the entertainment people they talked about.
This week (New Year's week) I spent a lot of time agonizing over buying a new computer. The USB ports when out on mine, and there was no fixing it. Serdar and Neshet took me computer shopping one afternoon which meant I got to see the big box stores, complete with crowded parking lots. A whole other side of Ukraine I haven't experienced—felt like I was back in the States. Also went to some smaller stores—there are many opportunities to buy laptops here, and the prices are about the same as the US, which means they are very expensive for the average Ukrainian. However, there must be enough people able to buy them, because there sure are a lot of stores. Anyhow, I couldn't quite convince Serdar that I needed an English operating system, so no purchases were made that day. However, it gave me an idea of what was out there and the next day I went on my own to a couple of stores and managed to communicate enough in Russian and a little English to buy a computer, and to get an English Windows 7 (pirated copy of course) put on it. I really wanted to get one of the net books because they are so easy to carry around, but they don't have cd drives and are expensive, so I settled for a budget Asus notebook at $500. Works great, the computer store is near the library in case I need help, and it has a 2-year warranty. So hopefully I am set for awhile.
The really big event here is New Year's, much like our Christmas. Much shopping for presents, holiday lights (though way, way less than what we see in America), lots of frenzied activity. Not much got done at the library this week as no one was in the mood to work—word has it that not much gets done all of January, though in my case that will not be true as I have a grant due at the end of the month. On Wednesday there was a big party for the staff at the children's library—a sit down meal with a lot of food, skits, games, a little dancing, champagne. Went on for about 3 hours. I had great fun despite no english speakers there. One of the highlights at the end was helping to clean up and singing Beatle songs together—they all know the words, if not the meaning.
I thought there was a party scheduled the next day at the Crimean Tatar library and came prepared, but when I got there few people were at work. Apparently, they had their party the previous day too, though not so elaborate because of the audit situation. But Nadjie was there and it was a chance for just the two of us to talk, something I have been wanting. I really do want to get closer to her and maybe this year as my language improves, I will be able to. I think she is a pretty wonderful woman. I gave her a copy of cousin Sara's new book for a New Year's present, and she was so appreciative. We joked how someday she will be able to read it (I'm giving her English lessons).
So that brings me to last night, New Year's Eve, and my quandry about what to do about being invited to both my neighbor's, plus someone from the library coming to bring me a present earlier in the evening. But it turned out to be a non issue. Zarema from the library came quite early, and I had dinner early with Maya and Server, leaving me free to spend the rest of the evening with Neshet and Lenora which is what I wanted to do. Another neighbor whom I know and like a lot, Lavisa, who is good friends with Maya, also came to their house for dinner. She was, unfortunately, extremely drunk from a work party. She was loudly carrying on and since I like her so much, and I know she likes me, I was trying to go along with. Then we all went over to her house and had more dinner and cognac. Her poor son was clearly very embarassed, as I think Maya and Server were, though by that time Server had also drunk quite a bit. Levisa's husband died three years ago at the age of 40 and this was the anniversary of his death. She works six days a week at a shop in the bazaar, and her life is pretty hard.
We came back to Maya and Server's and then I went over to Neshet and Lenora's where I spent the rest of the evening, having a grand dinner and drinking some wine and toasting in the New Year. The president always gives a little speech on television at midnight—apparently a tradition in Russia and all the former soviet union countries, and then fireworks were set off everywhere, which we went outside to watch. I think the most interesting part of the kind of long evening was a discussion Neshet and I had—or tried to have—about how hard it is to communicate without the language, that we can only talk on one level. I, of course, have been feeling this so strongly, and I sort of thought he was too. He also used a Russian word that wasn't in my little dictionary that basically was saying how you are going along down one road in your life and then an event happens that totally changes that direction. The event he was talking about was me moving in across the street. He kept referring to how he was out shoveling gravel when I stopped to introduce myself, and that event changed his life in some way. I'm pretty sure I understand all of it correctly. After much trying and frustration, I finally got what he was saying, and it was a moment of great connection from the heart. A wonderful way to start the New Year.
But now I have been sick since yesterday with a bad chest cold that has totally wiped me out, hopefully nothing more serious. I am trying to lay low these few days and know I don't have the energy to try and communicate in Russian. But already I miss going over there. My most fervent New Year's wish is that our ability to talk with one another will grow and grow.
Happy New Year to all my friends and family back in the States. May this be a year that brings you joy and wisdom.