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.