Sunday, March 14, 2010

Spring snowstorms and meeting the Ambassador

Fellow PCV Sam Kendall, USA Ambassador to Ukraine, John Tefft
Sam, Leniye from Windows on America, Elizabeth, Nada from Windows on America
Serdar and I loving the winter wonderland.

At the library, leaving shortly to go take the bus to Bakcheseray and the Khan’s Palace, where there is an opening of a photography exhibit of American photograph Tom Till of UNESCO world heritage sites. The new US ambassador is going to be there, so some of us Volunteers got an invite. Apparently, people from the library are also going, but they are going in the library car. They are having various conversations about it, but I really don’t know much of what they are saying. Unless people are making the effort to talk directly to me, I don’t pick up much of the conversations. I have learned to live with it, though it is hard not to get frustrated when the discussion topic concerns me. Younger Russian people seem much more willing to make the effort to communicate with me, I have noticed, with the exception of my neighbors and Nadjie. How blessed I am to have them in my life.
Last weekend seemed so hectic, but as I sit here, I can’t quite remember what I did. The weather was pretty terrible. Like Minnesota, Crimea is experiencing March snow storms with high winds and heavy snow. Saturday I was at home with the idea of eventually going into town to a party at my Fulbright friend Elizabeth’s apartment. I almost gave up going, but eventually made my way there. It was quite the international event—Americans, Russians, Crimean Tatars, a German, Italians, a Lithuaian, a Canadian. Elizabeth knows a bunch of foreign students here studying Russian plus there were all of us Peace Corps types and assorted friends. And all young, of course. Though one guy was maybe in his 40’s. I have gotten use to being the only older person and sometimes forget my age—it is an interesting experience. Working with young people all those years at the bookstore certainly prepared me for this aspect of my Peace Corps service. Sometimes I miss the company of my peers, but mostly I feel it is a great privilege to be part of the lives of young people who are forming their futures right in front of me.
My young PCV friend Grace stayed with me on the weekend. Sunday evening we went over to my neighbors for dinner and then played cards with Neshet and Serdar. A popular card game here called “durak” which means fool in Russian. And I was quite the fool, I must admit. I never quite got the hang of the game, but we did have a lot of fun.
Monday was International Women’s Day, an official holiday in Ukraine, so the library was closed and I had the day off. International Women’s Day is something I have long known about, and, indeed, it was that holiday I was celebrating many many years ago when I got arrested for doing graffiti celebrating women! But, of course, it is not a holiday that is recognized in the western world, despite the fact that it originated in the U.S. in the early 1900’s. But it was adopted by the socialist countries and has long been a celebration of the strengths of women. It seems to have evolved into kind of a Mother’s Day type event here with flowers and gift giving, but it isn’t restricted to just mothers. I received many “congratulations”—for what, I am not sure, but it was fun anyhow. I did not actually do much that day except recuperate from a hectic weekend, but in the afternoon I did what turned out to be the highlight of my week, a walk up into the snowy forest with Serdar. It was quite cold when we started out with the wind blowing, and we almost turned back when we got to the open areas, but I am so glad we didn’t. The forest was truly a winter wonderland, that rare occurrence after a storm with the snow still heavy on the branches and the feeling of being surrounded by a soft white winter hive. And it felt so fine to be sharing it with Serdar. We seem to be getting ever closer, as he talks more frankly with me about his dreams and fears and I feel more able to share my life with him. I truly enjoy our conversations and greatly value our friendship.
Sunday now. Making a pot of chicken soup, trying to get caught up on numerous things. The trip to Bakcheseray was fun but uneventful. Did meet the new ambassador who seems like a regular, Midwestern kind of guy (he is from Madison) and went to our favorite restaurant and had our favorite Crimean Tatar dish, lagman soup (a vegetable meat soup with homemade noodles).
Saturday I went to an event at the Franco Library, which is the main library in Simferopol and is housed in a beautiful new building—by far, the most modern building I have been in in Ukraine. My new found friend Natalya, the English speaking librarian there, invited me to come. It was some kind of celebration of Hungary with many speeches (in Russian and Hungarian so needless to say I didn’t catch much) and some great music performed by young people. A group of ten violinists and then two solo saxophone performers. One of them was this really terrific young girl. Unfortunately, her performance was marred for me—but not for anyone else probably—by one of the event organizers talking loudly to the person sitting next to him. I have been around this more than once. Apparently, behavior at public events that we would consider quite rude is acceptable here.
Later in the day I went over to where an English language camp for kids was happening. Most of the nearby PCV English teachers were conducting it and I had talked Serdar into going. He turned out to really enjoy it, but I think what he most loved was that he came with me to a gathering of PCV’s that night, and we all ended up playing cards. He had a great time, said he wants to do that every weekend! It was so fun to see him connect with everyone.
Better go finish my soup and get on with my other tasks. The sun is finally out for a little bit, and I really want to go for a walk, but the roads are truly a muddy mess. Many city buildings now have wash bins with brushes by the front door so you can clean the mud off your shoes before entering. And trying to keep your pants clean is a losing battle. Now I see why one of the PCV’s who has been here for awhile said she spends the spring in knee high rubber boots. Yellow ones, at that.
I am going to start working on creating a blog for the library which they will link to their website, so they will have an English component on their site. It was a suggestion from my Fulbright friend, Elizabeth, and I am really grateful to her for it, as I am beginning, once again, to feel like I am spinning my wheels at the library. So we will see where this leads….
That’s all for now. Maybe next time I will have a hiking report. Serdar seems to think it is going to be nice weather next weekend and he and I are itching to get out for a long hike in the mountains.
Much love from Crimea.


  1. Barb, what a wonderful action-packed week. I can really feel your frustration over the language. It's just difficult to understand what people are saying. Being with you inspired me to restart my French classes; I'm in one this term with one other person, a 17-year-old girl, who understands everything the instructor says, whereas I just sit there looking like Wamba the Witless! I hope the ambassador came away with a sense of how dedicated the PCV's are to their missions.
    Let me know when the Gasprinsky blog is up so that I can link to it.

  2. great to catch up on your adventures. if you have time we can try to skype this week. now all my close buddies are out of the country - mom and deb in south america, ann in nepal, you in ukraine - just me and the doggies here in michigan.

  3. Hi, Barb,
    It'a always wonderful to read your blog. I love to hear your take on things that happen and all about your wonderful neighbors, who seem so kind and caring, I wish I knew them. I haven't been a weekly reader, but then I get on and read back until I am caught up. Seeing the pictures is great too. Those pix of you and Serdar in the snow are so joyous. Don't stop, we are out here and so privileged to have a window into Ukraine and the Crimean Tatar community. Love you, Robin

  4. Barb, I was curious about Window on America--are they another org like the Peace Corps?