Sunday, February 21, 2010

Life rolls on

The days seem to be blurring more and more together now, as I have become busier. With what, I am not real sure. I think part of it is now there are two other Americans here in Simferopol who have become my friends, and so I have more of a “social life” in the city. I have also started to spend more time with my young Russian friend, Dima.
Adrianne, the new PCV in town, is helping with my Thursday evening English Club, so that has been a lot of fun. Last Thursday after the meeting, we went to a Russian play. The director of the library had given me two free tickets. It was a comedy in two acts, at a Moscow dacha (country home), but that is about the most I got out of it. Adrianne is a much better Russian speaker than I am, but she had a hard time following it too. We left at intermission, but it was a nice experience being at the theater, which was quite modern and several levels. I had walked by it several times, so I was glad to actually see the inside.
On Wednesday, most of the PCV’s in Crimea gathered at my library for a meeting with our Regional Manager (our supervisor) and the Peace Corps safety officer to go over various policies and safety issues. Nothing too exciting, just the usual Peace Corps bureaucratic stuff, which by now I have gotten use to. Earlier in the day I had gone with Serhiy (the security officer) to meet with the head of the police in Crimea. Adrianne and I are the new “wardens” in Crimea, which basically means we are responsible for getting information out to the other PCV’ s in case of an emergency. Meeting with the police head was interesting because he was definitely the jolliest Ukranian official I have met. As usual, I didn’t have a clue what was being talked about, and the rest of the men in the room were very dour faced, but this guy was just smiling the whole time and chuckling occasionally. I know that might not seem all that remarkable, but in Ukraine, it is. People really don’t smile here. It is one of the distinctions of being American—that we are “always smiling.” Not that that is true, of course, but it certainly is the perception.
We got word that the Gasprinsky Library received the grant I had applied for through the Peace Corps, so that made Nadjie and the director of the library happy. It is to fund a conference for Crimean librarians on Crimean Tatar language and literature and then to help them organize conferences in their regions and to develop Crimean Tatar sections in their libraries. Besides the conference, we will also be able to buy some equipment for the Gasprinsky Library—a laptop computer, camera, copier and scanner-- and will also be able to purchase copies of a new Crimean Tatar/Ukrainian/Russian Dictionary for all the participating libraries. So I think it will be a worthwhile event and hopefully will lead to other projects. Meanwhile, we continue to search for other grant sources for different projects, particularly preservation of old documents. The wheels turn slowly here, and I am learning to adjust to that pace.
Also, this week I hope to finish up a grant application for Enver, one of the artists, for his idea of an Illustrated Alphabet Book of the Crimean Tatar Language. I am going to submit it to the Netherlands and Norwegian Embassies here, both of whom have cultural grant programs. I feel that somewhere we will be able to find funding for this project, as it is so needed. The Crimean Tatar language is one of the most threatened languages in Europe. UNESCO gave is at “severely threatened” status in their 2008 Atlas of Endangered Languages. It is estimated that only 5% of Crimean Tatar children know the language. The only people I have heard speak it are adults.
The pictures I posted are of the old part of Simferopol where Enver lives. The mosque is the oldest building in Simferopol. It was built in 1508. And that is Enver on the left, Seitabla on the right. They are the two artists who form the NGO I work with on Fridays.
That’s all for now, I think. Next weekend, my beloved cousin Sara is coming for a few days. She will be my first visitor from America. I am excited to see her and hear her reactions to my life here. I no longer see it through totally American eyes, I don’t think. And we will see how I do as her “translator.” I was thinking today, in my ongoing conversation with myself about my Russian, that I need to just relax about it, to not always be afraid to speak if I can’t figure out the correct way to say something. I am sure that is what many of the young people do, as they have more confidence in their language training overall.
Bye for now. By the way, if are reading my posts and enjoying them, could you let me know? I feel myself beginning to drift away from doing it, and I don’t really want to do that if people out there are finding them interesting. Hopefully, I will continue to write with the purpose of recording this experience for myself, but having readers is a motivation.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Election, pickpocketed, projects, Crimean winter

It’s Monday morning, I am sitting at my desk in the Gasprinsky library, and there is a heated conversation going on. I can catch words here and there, but really don’t have a clue what it is about. And maybe that is not such a bad thing. I think often these heated conversations involve “office gossip,” which I really am not interested in experiencing. Better I live my blissful, unaware life here, I think.
Though earlier there was a heated conversation I was interested in. Yesterday was the runoff Presidential election. It is looking like Yanukovych, the candidate that rigged the election in 2004 which resulted in the Orange Revolution, has now been elected president, much to the dismay of all the Crimean Tatars that I know. The rest of Crimea, being very Russian, voted for him. However, the election is close, and his rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, has vowed to contest the results. So it might be a long drawn out process before there is actually a new president. Tymoshenko isn’t a whole lot better a candidate than Yanukovych.
She is known as the “gas princess” because she is very wealthy, due to, some say, shady dealings when she was head of the big gas company here. But at least she is articulate, presents a better front to the rest of the world, is a little less tied to Russia, and is a woman (albeit of the Margaret Thatcher type).
I watched the returns for awhile last night at my neighbors, and they seemed pretty discouraged. They said that it will take a new generation of Ukrainians who were born since independence to really change the country and abandon the Soviet ways. Though a young Russian friend of mine is so disillusioned that he “sold” his vote, a common practice here, apparently. You promise to vote for a certain candidate (in this case Yanokovych), take a picture with your cell phone of the ballot, and then show it to get your 100 grv (about $8). Clever, huh? Maybe this is exactly how it happens in the States, too.
Yesterday, I had one of those “Ukrainian “experiences” I was told (warned) about. I got pickpocketed at the bazaar. I went into one stall, bought something, and then I think I left my bag unzipped. Went into another stall that was kind of crowded. Someone came in behind me and was standing quite close. But that is not unusual here where personal space is not how we define it in the States. It annoyed me as it often does, but then the person left. But when I went to pay for my purchase, I saw all my money was gone. Unfortunately, I had more money with me than I usually do because it was left over from my trip to Kiev. So I lost about $25, which isn’t much, though quite a bit by Ukrainian standards. There were other people in the stall, and when they realized what had happened, they were appalled and starting talking about it. I went over to my neighbors later and wasn’t going to tell them, but did anyhow, as I am pretty much into sharing my life with them. They were upset about it, told me not to carry so much money with me to the bazaar and to hide it in a neck pouch. Exactly what I had learned in training, but I had become lax, especially at my local bazaar. So it was a lesson learned, to stay more alert. Neshet was teasing me because he had seen me once at the bazaar, and I was kind of oblivious to my surroundings. He had to call to me a couple of times to get my attention. And, of course, they said that as an American, I am pretty obvious and a target for thieves. And I thought I was blending in! Though, not really. My gray hair, if nothing else, is almost a dead giveaway, as 99.9% of women here dye their hair (usually some shade of red), no matter their age.
Saturday I went over to my counterpart Nadjie’s apartment for the first time. I had decided to give her my old laptop since it still works well, and she has no computer. She was very excited. Took us awhile to find a time, but Saturday afternoon I brought it to her house and was a “guest,” meaning she fed me. I think she has been embarrassed to have me over She lives very close to the library in a little apartment—two rooms and a tiny kitchen (single hot plate and small counter)—and has no indoor plumbing or heat. She has been on a waiting list for 15 years for one of the apartments promised to returning Crimean Tatars as part of the reparations for the property taken from them at the time of deportation. In the meantime, she lives out her life in a place many of the Peace Corps volunteers would not consider to be an adequate place to live for their two years. Maybe the next time I hear one of my fellow volunteers complain, I will have to tell them about how Nadjie lives.
Started formulating a project idea this week for the “Crimean Tatar Working Group,” a group of Peace Corps Volunteers scattered around Crimean who would like to work together on projects concerning Crimean Tatars. We started talking about an oral history project, and this week, I talked with Arzy, the library director’s daughter, about the idea. She was very interested, said little has been done, and it is urgently needed. A Russian friend of hers from Kiev who specializes in oral histories and is beginning to work with Crimean Tatars, is coming to town today and we are going to meet with her. The UN Development Agency has started a project they called Living Heritage, in which youth interview elders in their communities, and we had hoped to receive funding through that program. However, the UNDP has since dropped the program, but I am still hoping to receive some guidance from them.
Not much is happening at the library right now. We applied for a Peace Corps grant and are waiting to hear about that, and really don’t have much else in the works. Everyone seems preoccupied with an audit that is going on this month. Perhaps after that, we can be more focused on possible projects. And Friday when I went to meet with my artist to talk about his grant, we had coffee, he said he hadn’t had any time to work on it, and that was it for that day of working together. The Children’s Library has some grant they want help with, but so far they have written nothing for it, and it is due in two weeks. So I am doubtful they will come through.
Winter has finally come to Crimea. There are several inches of snow on the ground, and it has been bitterly cold. Unfortunately, people do not shovel the sidewalks, I have only once seen a road plow, and heat is lacking on buses and in many public places. So it is harder to experience winter here than it was in Minnesota, and I don’t have the joys of cross country skiing (unheard of here) to offset the difficulties of living in a winter climate. But I am lucky I live in Crimea where the winters are fairly mild, and even with the snow, I got out for a nice walk yesterday and took some pictures of the snow covered fields and mountains—see attached.
Love to all.